Do you notice the brighter beam? During the most recent shutdown, all of the corrector magnets were replaced with sextupoles, reducing the horizontal emittance and increasing beam brightness. “This is part of ongoing improvement to keep the ALS on the cutting edge,” says Alastair MacDowell, a beamline scientist on Beamline 12.2.2.
The brightness has increased by a factor of about three in the storage ring. Beamlines on superbend or center-bend magnets will see the most noticeable increase in brightness, but the horizontal beam size and divergence have been substantially reduced at all beamlines. “We are starting to approach the resolution of many beamlines. Therefore, not every beamline will be able to resolve the full improvement,” says Christoph Steier, project leader of the brightness upgrade. Though superbend and center-bend magnet source sizes are reduced by roughly a factor of three, “measured improvements so far range from a factor of 2-2.5,” Steier says. He and MacDowell agree that the beamline optics are likely the limiting factor in resolving the full improvement at the beamlines.
Martin Kunz and Nobumichi Tamura, staff scientists on microdiffraction Beamline 12.3.2, focus all the photons from the beam to a spot size of one micron. This upgrade increases the intensity of the spot by a factor of at least two, enabling data collection in less than half the time. Kunz's measurements (shown above) indicate a 2.9-times decrease in horizontal beam size and a slight increase in vertical beam size.
The ALS is replacing all of the corrector magnets with sextupoles (48 of them) to allow for tighter horizontal control of the beam, thereby increasing beam brightness. This so-called "lattice upgrade" will also increase beam brightness by concentrating the horizontal emittance.
(Top) ALS Project and Facility Management Group Leader Steve Rossi proudly shows off a newly-installed sextupole magnet. (Center) Christoph Steier and Arnaud Madur discuss challenges encountered during the installation. (Bottom) A corrector magnet that has been removed from the ring. Some sextupole magnets awaiting installation in the Building 15 staging area.
Cold head replacement
The cooling elements in the three superbend magnets (and one spare) need to be replaced every 18 months or so, a factor that must be considered when setting the ALS shutdown schedule. These "cold heads" cool the 1.5-ton superbends to an operating temperature of 4K, pumping in liquid phase nitrogen and helium. To replace the cold heads, each must first be warmed up to room temperature, which takes about three days if heating is circulated (it would take about 10 days if left to warm on its own). Crews can then remove the old cold head and ship it off to the manufacturer for refurbishing (like a cold head recycling program). The new piece is installed in its place, the magnets are cooled back down to 4K, and power is restored.
Clockwise from top left. 1) A superbend magnet. 2) Inside the superbend, the cold head lies just to the right of the lantern. 3) The new cold head ready to be installed. 4) ) A top-down view into the superbend. 5) Denis Calais (left) and Adrian Williams access the cold head through a hole in the roof of the storage ring. 6) Cooling down the superbend magnet is the final step of installation.
New klystron power supply
As part of the storage ring radio frequency (rf) upgrade, the ALS installed a new high-voltage power supply that will support the use of two new klystrons instead of the single original klystron installed in 1992. Klystrons are used to provide rf cavities with microwaves that "kick" electrons to boost or maintain their speed. The storage ring has two rf cavities, and the next portion of the upgrade will involve installing a switch that allows operation of one or both cavities on either klystron, if necessary, but with normal operation being one klystron per cavity.
Sector 7 upgrade
Beamline 7 has been disassembled to make way for MAESTRO (nanoARPES) and COSMIC (Coherent Scattering and Microscopy). One major part of this work was to remove the insertion device from this sector. The giant undulator was hoisted out of the storage ring by a 30-ton crane and positioned on a support slab. Eventually, it will be shipped to another light source for use.
(Top row) The insertion device is hoisted out of the storage ring and moved to a staging area by the 60,000 pound-capacity crane. (Bottom row left) Riggers guide the insertion device (ID). (Center) A close-up view of the ID, shows magnets on the top and bottom direct the path of the x-ray light, which runs through a tube at their center. (Far right) The magnets up close.
As you can see, this 47,000-pound device was one of the original insertion devices used at the ALS, installed in 1993.
Sector 7 will be chicaned and will receive two new insertion devices where there previously was one. MAESTRO will receive a next-generation nanoARPES chamber in addition to the existing µARPES endstation, new optics, and a sample transfer system. Here are some photos of the front end.
(From left to right) The front end of Sector 7 is also being upgraded and the floor awaits new equipment. Peer into the storage ring through the open door of Sector 7. Empty racks are awaiting new computers.
A New York high school student who wrote a research paper based on her work as a Berkeley Lab Chemical Sciences Division intern this past summer has been named one of 300 semifinalists in the 2013 Intel Science Talent Search, the most prestigious and oldest pre-college science competition in the nation. Chloe Wang, a 16-year-old Dobbs Ferry High School student, spent six weeks in the Chemical Sciences Division and at the Advanced Light Source (ALS) preparing experiments for ALS beamtimes for a research project on hydrogen separation membranes. Wang worked closely with Chemical Sciences Division scientists Hendrik Bluhm and Christoph Rameshan.
“They introduced me to lab procedures and showed me how things operate,” says Wang. “The ALS was probably the most interesting part of the Lab that I saw because it’s such a convergence of scientific disciplines and I’d never been anywhere like that before.”
Wang’s winning research paper, “Effects of Water Vapor on Hydrogen Permeation through a Metal Membrane,” selected from more than 1,700 entrants, examined filtering out hydrogen from other gases by passing it through a thin sheet of metal. Her research determined that water vapor has a negative effect on the permeation of hydrogen. Wang says she’s very interested in alternative energy and found it rewarding to contribute to the preparation of ALS investigations on hydrogen separation research.
Wang’s summer research was part of a project that continues at Molecular Environmental Sciences Beamline 11.0.2 using ambient-pressure x-ray photoelectronspectroscopy (XPS). The beamline’s in situ measurement capabilities allow scientists to study liquid/vapor and solid/vapor interfaces under more realistic conditions.
“Chloe’s initial research gave us parameters and ideas about the issues we’d need to address in our subsequent research,” says Bluhm. “She was a wonderfully enthusiastic student to work with and extremely bright.”
Gratings – optical elements used to separate light in spectroscopy applications – have been in use since the early 19th century. Developments in the late 19th century led to the manufacture of gratings by highly precise ruling with a diamond onto a metallic surface. Many gratings are still produced today using the same technique. Holographic methods and ion etching are also used, but all of these techniques result in gratings that contain significant imperfections, which limits resolution.
However, a new type of ultra-high diffraction grating recently patented by members of the ALS Experimental Systems Group (ESG), working with colleagues from Berkeley Lab’s Center for X-ray Optics, stands to revolutionize the resolution capabilities of soft x-ray spectroscopy. The key to the new technique is the production of a near atomically perfect substrate, using the anisotropic etching of silicon.
“Essentially, we’ve discovered a way to make atomically perfect gratings,” says Howard Padmore, head of ESG. “We’re able to make them with very high line density and to make them diffract in high orders, all of which gets us hugely improved resolution and throughput.”
The most serious imperfection in traditional gratings is micro- and nano-scale roughness, which in a reflection grating leads to background scattered light. The consequence, which has a large impact on spectroscopy capabilities, is that gratings are largely limited to 2D surface structures. Much higher efficiency and vastly improved resolution can be achieved with 3D periodic gratings, but this requires perfect interfaces and therefore a perfect substrate. The 3D structure is made by deposition of high and low Z alternate layers on the grating substrate, so that imperfections in the substrate are transferred and amplified in subsequent layers. A good 3D grating therefore needs as close to an atomically perfect substrate as possible.
ESG Scientist Dmitriy Voronov at Beamline 6.3.2, where he tests and characterizes the diffraction capabilities of the new gratings he’s developed.
Dmitriy Voronov, an ESG scientist involved in the development of the new grating technique, created the patentable, atomically perfect grating by using a perfectly suited substrate material: silicon. Since silicon etches in alkali solutions roughly 1000 times faster in some directions than others, a crystalline silicon grating can be created by cutting the crystal so that the slow etching direction is a few degrees from the surface plane. Etching a lithographically defined pattern results in fast etching along the <111> planes, leaving a perfect sawtooth pattern in the silicon. The residual defects are at the level of 1 atomic plane. This near perfect substrate allows the growth of the 3D grating to the necessary perfection. The result is improved efficiency over today’s gratings, with an increase in resolution of up to a factor of 20 for similar conditions.
These new gratings can be applied across a wide range of x-ray science applications. One of the most promising of these is resonant inelastic x-ray scattering (RIXS), a spectroscopy technique that measures both the energy and momentum change of a scattered photon. Unlike traditional photoelectron spectroscopy, RIXS gives scientists element-specific data. The current generation of spectrometers doesn’t provide the resolution needed to fully exploit RIXS, but a higher resolution, higher efficiency grating would resolve this.
These cross-sectional images of the ultra-high diffraction gratings patented by the ALS Experimental Systems Group show the unique structure of saw-tooth grooves with atomically smooth facets.
“RIXS is one of the biggest things to happen in x-ray science in the past decade; we need to move from the 100 meV resolution of present instruments to the 5 meV scale of photoemission, and this should be possible using these new techniques” says Padmore.
Voronov says that fabrication of x-ray gratings with the classical ruling technique is quite a slow process — it can take weeks or even months to rule the required number of lines. Moreover, the diamond ruling does not provide superior smoothness of the grooves, which is crucial for 3D gratings. The number of lines and high-order diffraction are key to the technique’s effectiveness since they determine the resolution.
“The anisotropic etch technique we use guarantees almost perfect surface finish of the grooves and a slope of groove’s facets, enabling high-order operation of a diffraction grating,” says Voronov.
“The fact that we can rule these gratings with a very high line density and make them diffract efficiently in a high order means we get higher resolving power,” says Padmore.
With a patent in place, Padmore’s hope is that a company sees the technique as a worthwhile investment and begins commercial production. Until then, the implementation of these gratings at the ALS and other similar facilities will depend on funding. The next steps at ALS will be the integration of the gratings in a real spectrometer and the validation of this new approach. After 200 years of research and application, much still remains to be done to perfect the diffraction grating, one of the most useful and widely used instruments in physical science.
Voronov D L, Anderson E H, Gullikson E M, Salmassi F, Warwick T, Yashchuk V V and Padmore H A, Opt. Lett.37 (2012) 1628
Voronov D L, Gawlitza P, Cambie R, Dhuey S, Gullikson E M, Warwick T, Braun S, Yashchuk V V and H.A. Padmore, JAP111 (2012) 093521
Voronov D L, Anderson E H, Cambie R, Cabrini S, Dhuey S D, Goray L I, Gullikson E M, Salmassi F, Warwick T, Yashchuk V V and Padmore H A, Opt. Express19 (2011) 6320
Voronov D L, Ahn M, Anderson E H, Cambie R, Chang Ch-H, Gullikson E M, Heilmann R K, Salmassi F, Schattenburg M L, Warwick T, Yashchuk V V, Zipp L and Padmore H A, Opt. Lett.35, (2010) 2615
We recently sat down with ALS Director Roger Falcone to talk about what 2013 has in store for the ALS. An immediate answer is - a celebration - as the ALS marks its 20th year of operation. We’ll spend some time this year looking back at what we’ve accomplished over the past couple of decades and forward to how we’ll continue to contribute to the future of scientific research.
The next few months at the ALS will be both busy and exciting as we prepare for our annual shutdown in February and for a DOE budget review in March, says Falcone. The shutdown will bring some long-anticipated upgrades and implementations to our facility and the budget review will give the ALS an opportunity to revisit, fine-tune, and prioritize our strategic plan. We continue to improve our accelerator so that we maintain our leadership as one of the brightest soft x-ray synchrotrons in the world — a valuable enabling resource for thousands of users.
“Our strategic plan captures our best ideas about how we will work with users to stay at the forefront of science,” says Falcone. “The roadmap for how we do that will be informed by where the DOE and other agencies are focusing resources.”
One of the DOE’s major focus areas in 2013 will continue to be sustainable energy, says Falcone. The ALS has continually played a role in this arena by partnering with scientists involved in major sustainable energy efforts, including JCAP, an ongoing effort in artificial photosynthesis, and JCSER, a new energy storage initiative.
“We’ve always done world-leading research, and that has put us in a position to contribute directly to these grand-challenge missions that the DOE has taken on,” says Falcone. That also means we need to continue our basic research mission to be prepared for the grand challenges in the future.
New ALS instrumentation plans in 2013 such as our AMBER beamline proposal will build upon existing ALS capabilities for supporting energy research.
Partnerships and collaborations with other divisions at the Lab will also inform our focus and strategy, says Falcone. With Omar Yaghi as the new director of the Molecular Foundry, we are looking more closely at how we can expand our small-molecule crystallography capabilities to provide the best research capabilities for new functional materials including metal-organic frameworks (MOFs), which would also align well with the DOE’s interest in mesoscale research.
More than 6000 people came up the hill to see what is happening at Berkeley Lab during Open House on Saturday, October 13, and more than 1500 of them came even further up the hill to visit the ALS for tours, talks, and hands-on activities, all of which helped them understand how we use electrons, magnets, microscopes, and computers to conduct research at the ALS. At the X-Ray Café, ALS staff and scientists spoke one-on-one with guests about how the ALS works, why and how scientists want to use it, how it is funded, and plans for the future. Inside the ring, visitors heard science stories from beamline scientists. You can see more candid photos of the Open House on the ALS flickr site.
ALS Users’ Executive Committee Chair Brandy Toner launched this year’s User Meeting with a warm welcome to the 417 registered attendees who gathered from around the world to attend plenary sessions, workshops, and social gatherings. Berkeley Lab Deputy Director Horst Simon then extended his own welcome, touching upon the importance of the synergy between the ALS and the Lab as the ALS begins a collaboration with the Lab’s computational research program, which Simon previously led, to solve data management challenges. ALS Division Director Roger Falcone thi(at left) provided a broad overview of the state of the ALS, covering budgets, important research areas, and user demographics. Falcone was pleased to point out the jump in the number of refereed publications last year and notable science highlights, which communicated ALS advances in structural biology, battery research, and fundamental science. Falcone acknowledged the work of Simon Morton and Jeff Dickert at the BCSB beamline this year, which won them an R&D100 Award.
DOE Associate Director of Science for Basic Energy Science (BES), Dr. Harriet Kung, began her presentation with a discussion of new opportunities for mesoscale science, which the DOE sees giving rise to interesting possibilities for integration of computation, characterization, and synthesis. Regardless of uncertainties in funding, which Kung described as “a very challenging situation,” BES is looking forward to continuing its commitment to science with a focused interest on clean energy science and advances in computational power. Kung detailed BES efforts to inform taxpayers about the benefits of facilities and programs through various communications efforts.
Don Medley, Berkeley Lab’s Head of Federal Government Relations, continued Kung’s discussion of communication efforts with a lively talk about building support for science among our elected officials through education and outreach. Monica Metzler, Chair of the Illinois Science Council, followed with an entertaining and informative message about communication techniques that make presentations most effective.
The Molecular Foundry’s Director, Omar Yaghi, then took the stage to discuss his groundbreaking work on metal-organic frameworks (MOFs), which show great promise for natural gas storage and carbon gas capture. Yaghi articulated the vast opportunities available to scientists who want to help move MOF research forward and his hopes for collaboration between the Foundry and the ALS.
ALS staff updates included User Services group lead Sue Bailey, who introduced plans for a new ALS user portal and an updated registration and proposal system. David Robin, Division Deputy for Accelerator Operation and Development, reviewed planned accelerator, instrumentation, and controls upgrades and a new operational mode.
Pupa Gilbert of the University of Wisconsin discussed her work on mapping the amorphous-to-crystalline transitions in sea urchin biominerals using the PEEM microscope at Beamline 11.0.1. Steve Kevan, newly appointed Deputy Division Director for Science at the ALS, discussed his work on hidden symmetries in magnetic domains.
Twenty-one students from around the world then stepped up to present their research for the third annual student poster slam (at right). They were followed by Nate Lewis, Director of the Joint Center for Artificial Photosynthesis (JCAP) at Caltech, a program dedicated to the development of an artificial solar-fuel generation technology. JCAP aims to find a cost-effective method to produce fuels using only sunlight, water, and carbon-dioxide as inputs.
At the poster competition (below) and reception that evening, students fielded questions about their work, with first prize going to Mahati Chintapalli of the Materials Science Department at UC Berkeley for her research on size-dependent dissociation of CO on cobalt nanocatalysts.
Tuesday morning began with award winners speaking about their work – first up was Shirley Award winner Carl Percival, an atmospheric chemist from the University of Manchester, whose team made the first direct measurements of the reaction rates of Criegee intermediates and thus showed that their impact on tropospheric chemistry and climate may be substantially greater than previously assumed. Student poster award winner Mahati Chintapalli also had a chance to present and field questions about her research.
Tuesday progressed with presentations by ALS users working in a variety of research areas. Berkeley Lab senior materials scientist Rob Ritchie talked about his research on the fracture behavior of human bone and ceramic composites using x-ray synchrotron microtomography. Wanli Yang, an ALS staff scientist working on battery research, spoke about using soft x-rays to probe electronic states key to battery performance. Andrew McElrone, an ALS user and Research Scientist with the USDA-Agricultural Research Service, spoke about his use of high-resolution computed tomography to gain a better understanding of a grapevine’s water transport system and reactions to drought pressure.
ALS staff scientist Eli Rotenberg rounded out Tuesday’s session with an entertaining and enlightening retrospective on the past 19 years of photoemission at Beamline 7. The beamline was retired recently and is currently undergoing a complete rebuild.
Tuesday’s awards dinner brought the ALS user community together to recognize some of their own distinguished accomplishments. The Klaus Halbach Award for Innovative Instrumentation went to Simon Morton and Jeff Dickert of Berkeley Lab’s Physical Biosciences Division for the invention and implementation of the Compact Variable Collimator, which has led to a dramatic increase in productivity in protein crystallography at the Berkeley Center for Structural Biology beamlines. The Tim Renner User Services Award for Outstanding Support to the ALS User Community was awarded to Tolek Tyliszczak, beamline scientist at the Molecular Environmental Sciences beamline, a leading national resource in the field of soft x-ray synchrotron radiation research. Descriptions of the awards and photos of the recipients are available on the 2012 ALS User Meeting Awards Web page.
Although it’s defined by DOE as a national user facility just as the ALS is, the Energy Sciences Network (ESnet) doesn’t quite fit the image of a centrally located facility serving a specific set of users. Rather, ESnet is a nationwide network that provides high-bandwidth, reliable connectivity linking tens of thousands of scientists at more than 40 DOE labs and facilities. The systems and services provided by ESnet staff advance research by helping scientists share their ideas, their data and their discoveries with collaborators and peers around the world.
Managed by Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (LBNL), ESnet will soon take bandwidth to the next level as it rolls out the world’s first 100 gigabits per second (100 Gbps) network by the end of 2012. According to ESnet Director Greg Bell, the scientific data resulting from experiments at DOE’s particle accelerators, light sources and genome sequencing facilities are push the limits of ESnet’s current 10 Gbps network.
“We never want the network to be a gating function for scientific discovery,” Bell said.
According to ALS Scientist Dula Parkinson, a new fast camera installed at the hard x-ray tomography Beamline 8.3.2 at the ALS last year allows scientists to study a variety of structures as a function of time—from bones to rocks, and even metallic alloys—in unprecedented detail. The new camera produces data at a rate of 300 megabytes per second, which is 50 times faster than the one it replaced.
“Two years ago the hard x-ray tomography beamline at Berkeley Lab’s ALS generated about 100 gigabytes of data per week, but we got a faster camera and now we are generating anywhere from 2 to 5 terabytes of data per week,” says Parkinson. “This is pushing the limit of what our current infrastructure can handle.”
According to Parkinson, in the current system, a typical ALS user will create a folder on a data storage server connected to the instrument, and save their raw data to this folder. In many cases, users may do some initial processing on desktop computers at the ALS and save these files on the facility’s storage server. Upon leaving the facility, researchers will copy their data on an external hard drive and carry it home for further analysis. The files and raw data initially saved on the ALS storage server are typically left behind for the facility’s staff to manage. Keeping up with the torrent of data requires new methods for moving, storing, and analyzing data.
For the first step, ESnet staff helped Parkinson set up a data transfer node (tuned for optimal performance) and LBNL networking staff helped deploy a 10 Gigabits-per-second switch, giving Parkinson’s data a high-performance path through the LBNL network (LBLnet) to ESnet. This approach is an example of ESnet’s “Science DMZ” model, where data-intensive science applications are run on dedicated infrastructure configured for high performance.
ESnet carries the ALS data to DOE’s National Energy Research Scientific Computing Center (NERSC) in Oakland, where the data is stored, managed and shared with other researchers. To pave the way, NERSC staff helped Parkinson with his data acquisition and data transfer workflow. Future plans include tapping into NERSC’s supercomputing resources to improve data analysis.
“This is a success story for the ALS, for LBLnet, for ESnet and for NERSC,” said ESnet network engineer Eli Dart, who worked with Parkinson. “This is a working example of the science infrastructure needed to support a new generation of data-intensive science experiments at X-ray light sources, neutron sources, and free-electron lasers.”
ALS users interested in using the network for data-intensive workflows can contact ESnet at
or learn more at the October user meeting poster session.
Lots of changes have been happening in the ALS User Office over the last couple of months: users will find that a familiar face is gone and new ones are there to welcome them and help complete their registration.
Sharon Fujimura, who has worked in the ALS User Office since the start of ALS operations, retires at the end of June. Sharon manned the Reception Desk in the mezzanine and was renowned for her sense of humor and efficient user registration technique. Staff and users would like to thank Sharon for her dedication to supporting users over the years and wish her a long and happy retirement.
The User Office is happy to welcome Giselle Jiles, who began in early June as Sharon's replacement. Giselle was previously admissions director at St. Joseph's High School in the Bay area.
We are also very proud of Deborah Smith, supervisor of the User Office, who has recently graduated with a liberal arts associate degree from Berkeley City College, and who is progressing to her Bachelor's degree at JFK University.
ALS Beamline Scientist Kate Jenkins recently spent an afternoon discussing the scientific vailidity of The Avengers with 16- and 17-year-old high school students. It was all in the name of promoting science as cool, relevant, and something to consider as a future career.
Jenkins visited with AP and college prep physics students at Albany High School as part of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) program “Day with an Engineer.” She talked about her educational path and her job as a materials scientist and then took questions from the teens, the most common one being: “Is what I saw in the movie The Avengers real?” Luckily, Jenkins had seen the movie and anticipated the question.
“I had printed out a screen shot of this thing from the movie called a tesseract, which is the ‘source of ultimate potential energy,’” says Jenkins. “In the movie they control the tesseract with a septapole magnet, so I was able to say ‘actually, I work on a machine that uses the same thing as the tesseract… and here’s what I do with it.’”
With the help of LBNL’s Center for Science and Engineering Education (CSEE), Jenkins also presented the students with a series of models that helped her explain magnetism and superconductivity. The students were suitably impressed with her superconducting magnetic levitation train and oxygen liquefying cone, Jenkins says. Following her visit with students, Kate received several letters from the students thanking her for her efforts and enthusiastically promising to keep up their studies in physics.
When she’s not acting as an ALS ambassador to local students, Jenkins can be found conducting magnetic spectroscopy and scattering research at Beamline 6.3.1 .
Corie Ralston’s appointment as Head of the Berkeley Center for Structural Biology (BCSB) has her busy looking at budgets, funding, and big-picture goals. The biophysicist staff scientist has been with BCSB for more than 10 years, so much of what she’s considering comes from an intimate familiarity with the day-to-day operations and challenges of the facility.
Ralston joined BCSB, which runs five of the crystallography beamlines at the ALS, as a staff scientist in 2002 and took on the larger role of operations manager about five years ago. While Ralston will definitely keep a hand in the crystallography research she’s been doing, her work balance will shift more toward user relations and funding development. Her new position entails managing a group of 12 employees and a budget of $3 million.
In her beamline research, Ralston studies chaperonin protein structures, which she describes as “the really important medics in our cells” that can fix mis-folded proteins. Since mis-folded proteins may cause many diseases, such as Alzheimer's and Parkinson's, a better understanding of chaperonins could lead to breakthrough drug developments. Ralston’s research is part of a collaboration with Stanford that was organized by former BCSB Head Paul Adams.
“The thing about keeping my hand in crystallography is that it gives me a sense of what’s needed at the beamlines,” says Ralston. “Especially because I work on a hard project – it’s not easy to crystallize; it’s not easy to solve; the data is always sub-optimal, so I have to have the best tools at the beamline.”
Beamline engineering developments are what keep Ralston’s crystallography work moving forward, and managing this process will be key to her new position as Head of BCSB. From software tools that advance data processing and collection to hardware tools like beamline optics and robotic controls, engineering development is what keeps the ALS crystallography beamlines at the forefront.
“It’s a challenge because whenever you’re doing something new that increases the flux of the beamline, you’re in danger of making it less stable,” says Ralston. “Maintaining this balance between stability and technological advancement is one of our biggest challenges.”
Besides maintaining existing BCSB funding – the majority of which comes from contracts with participating research teams (PRT), Howard Hughes Medical Institute, and an NIH grant – Ralston hopes to develop new funding sources by restructuring beamline contracts. She’d like to be able to offer smaller amounts of guaranteed beamtime to PRT users with smaller budgets, which is a more common situation in today’s economy. Ralston would then launch an aggressive PR campaign, travelling to present the new option to companies and academic institutions nationwide.
“I would really love BCSB to be the first thing someone thinks of when they need to solve a structure in order to move forward with their research,” says Ralston.
In Her Spare Time: Award-Winning Science Fiction Writer
In addition to her new appointment at BCSB, Ralston has recently been recognized for her science fiction writing achievements, winning first prize in an international competition organized by the UK’s national synchrotron facility, Diamond Light Source. Her short story “The Sound of Science” follows a series of interactions between a beamline scientist and an alien as the scientist leads a group tour of a synchrotron. While the scientist begins the tour feeling frustrated with the inconvenience of taking time away from her work, her interactions with the curious alien lead her to some new realizations about science and our species’ interconnectedness.
“We all depend on each other for various areas of expertise,” Ralston muses. “I don’t really know how my car works and I can’t build a coffeemaker, but I can fix the beamline.”
The inspiration for her story came partly from Ralston’s personal experience at the ALS. “I do give a lot of tours and often I’m not initially enthusiastic about doing it, but then the people on my tours are so amazed by everything that it serves as a nice reminder of why I like this place so much,” says Ralston. “I thought to include an alien maybe because some of the people on my tour seem alien to me.”
Ralston has been writing science fiction since she was a teenager, becoming serious about her pursuit about 10 years ago. She now has more than a dozen published stories at the professional level. She recently finished a draft of her first novel, which is set in post-apocalyptic Bay Area.
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