Today at Berkeley Lab

ALS User Meeting Focuses on New Capabilities, Future Opportunities

About 400 people attended an annual meeting at Berkeley Lab this week that featured science talks and workshops focused on the current and future capabilities of the Lab’s Advanced Light Source (ALS), an X-ray source known as a synchrotron.

The 2017 ALS User Meeting’s three-day program included updates on just-launched and on-the-way beamlines enabling new types of experiments, several keynote speakers, 13 breakout workshops, a student poster competition, and an awards ceremony.

The ALS routinely draws more than 2,000 visiting scientists per year who conduct experiments at its 40 beamlines, and there are a rising number of proposals that vie for experimental time at the ALS. The ALS has a particular specialty in experimental techniques that utilize an X-ray energy range known as “soft” X-rays.

Roger Falcone, ALS director, presented an overview to attendees about new developments at the ALS, including last year’s launch of the MAESTRO (Microscopic And Electronic STRucture Observatory) beamline that includes onsite sample prep tools, and “first light” and initial testing of the COSMIC (COherent Scattering and MICroscopy) beamline.

Clockwise from upper left: ALS User Meeting attendees gather during a poster session; Jessica Thomaston of UC San Francisco, who won second place in this year’s poster competition at the ALS User Meeting, describes her work onX-ray crystal structures of bound states of the influenza A virus; Roger Falcone, ALS director, speaks during an awards dinner; attendees gather in the Building 50 Auditorium to hear science talks; Carolyn Larabell, a biologist and faculty scientist in the MBIB Division at Berkeley Lab and director of the National Center for X-ray Tomography, delivers a talk as a recipient of this year’s David A. Shirley Award; Natalie Larson, a graduate student at UC Santa Barbara, delivers a presentation about her research of defects in ceramic composites after winning the student poster competition.

Other beamlines in different stages of development include:

  • AMBER, which will focus on energy, catalysis and chemical science experiments; AMBER will encompass a range of techniques that can also benefit studies in earth and environmental sciences, and in energy and materials sciences.
  • GEMINI, which will specialize in structural studies of biological samples using a technique known as protein crystallography.
  • QERLIN, which will be used for materials explorations using a variety of X-ray techniques (resonant inelastic X-ray scattering, and X-ray emission and absorption spectroscopy).

Falcone also pointed to new challenges in managing the increasingly large data produced in X-ray experiments, and asked for the scientific community’s feedback in how to best manage and plan for this surge in data to meet their needs. “As the machine is getting brighter, and as detectors and computers are getting better, we are dealing with a huge increase in data,” he said.

The Lab is now planning for a major ALS upgrade, known as ALS-U, that would provide a more focused, brighter source of X-rays. David Robin, the ALS-U project director, gave an update on the progress of developing the conceptual design and critical R&D.

Steve Kevan, the ALS-U science coordinator and ALS science deputy, highlighted key examples of crosscutting scientific challenges that will be addressed with the improved capabilities provided by ALS-U, and discussed ways that the facility’s scientist “users” can provide input on the scope of the experimental systems being developed.

“It’s critical that we solicit the best ideas from the community,” Kevan said. “We want to conduct an open and transparent process.”

Hemamala Karunadasa, an assistant professor of chemistry at Stanford University and one of four keynote speakers at the meeting, discussed the excitement in the scientific community surrounding lead-halide perovskite materials.

R&D has led to a rapid rise in the efficiency of devices containing these materials, which could spawn a range of applications – such as new technologies that combine electronics and light. But their instability when exposed to moisture, and their potential toxicity, has led researchers in new directions as they seek out other materials with similar properties.

She referred to the overall class of materials as “a playground for manipulating electrons,” and noted that the materials are generally easy and inexpensive to manufacture.

In another talk, David Shapiro, a staff scientist in the Experimental Systems Group at the ALS, discussed an emerging capability in X-ray ptychography at the ALS, which allows nanoscale 3-D images of processes in working batteries, for example. Also, he said, “We can now visualize and quantify chemical phases in three dimensions within single nanoparticles.”

Several award recipients were honored during the meeting:

  • Carolyn Larabell, a biologist and faculty scientist with the Molecular Biophysics and Integrated Bioimaging division at Berkeley Lab and director of the National Center for X-ray Tomography, received the David A. Shirley Award for Outstanding Scientific Achievement at the ALS “for pioneering soft x-ray tomography for imaging cells in their fully hydrated states.”
  • Sue Bailey, group leader for User Services at the ALS, won the Tim Renner User Services Award for Outstanding Support to the ALS User Community “for her leadership in developing the ALS User Portal, ALSHub, and its associated software suite.”
  • Dmitriy Voronov, an ALS staff scientist, won the Klaus Halbach Award for Innovative Instrumentation at the ALS “for pioneering work in the area of advanced X-ray gratings.”
  • Natalie Larson, a graduate student at UC Santa Barbara who is studying how to reduce defects in ceramic composite materials for possible applications in next-generation jet engine materials that can operate at higher temperatures, won the student poster competition. Jessica Thomaston of UC San Francisco won second place for her work on X-ray crystal structures of bound states of the influenza A virus, and Sam Shickler of Black Pine Circle School won third place for his work using virtual reality to visualize 3-D micron scale data.

Larabell, in a presentation related to her award, discussed her 20 years of research in soft X-ray tomography, and credited the Laboratory Directed Research and Development program that provided seed money for her research. In 2003, a fortuitous talk at a conference led her to a discussion with a National Institutes of Health program officer who encouraged her to apply for funding for a center at Berkeley Lab.

“I said, ‘If this gets funded our career is determined right now,’ and it did (get funded),” she recalled.

The imaging detail and relative simplicity of preparing X-ray tomography samples compared to the multitude of steps required for the more conventional electron-based tomography attracted her to the field, she noted, and when she received money to establish the tomography center at Berkeley Lab “I turned into a marketing representative,” she said, to help promote the technique to other scientists.

She listed the various efforts that have improved resolution and labeling of cell components, and that have automated different aspects of X-ray-based imaging and data analysis, and she detailed a new project that seeks to diagram the structures of chromosomes packed into cell nuclei. “We want to do this with a number of cell types, so we know where genes are in the nucleus,” she said.

Also during the meeting, Linda Horton, director of the Materials Sciences and Engineering Division for the DOE Office of Basic Energy Sciences, provided an overview and update on the budget scenarios for the DOE Office of Science national labs.

The ALS is a DOE Office of Science User Facility.