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ALSNews Features
User Office Update Print

 

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.

deborah smith graduation

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.

 
Educational Outreach: From Superheroes to Synchrotrons Print

 

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 at albany high schoolJenkins 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: New Head of Berkeley Center for Structural Biology…and Award-Winning Writer Print


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.

ralstonRalston 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.

 

Read Corie's winning entry "The Sound of Silence" and see her describing her work on Beamline Highlight 8.3.2: Structural Biology.

View the PBD announcement of her appointment here.

 
Two ALS Users Selected for DOE Research Award Print


Berkeley Lab Scientists Kevin Wilson and Oliver Gessner have been selected from a nationwide pool of more than 800 applicants to receive research awards from the DOE’s Early Career Research Program. Wilson and Gessner join 66 other U.S. university- and laboratory-based researchers who were selected for the five-year awards.

Overseen by the DOE’s Office of Science, the Early Career Research Program provides crucial financial support to top researchers in their formative career stages. With these awards, the DOE specifically targeted research areas that are high priority to the department and the nation as a whole.

wilsonWilson, Beamline Scientist on the Chemical Dynamics Beamline 9.0.2, plans to focus his Early Career research on the fate of hydrocarbons in the environment. His research will use new experimental techniques to look at how hydrocarbons at the liquid-water interface react with gas-phase free radicals. “It was my beamline work here at the ALS that led to some of these questions about how chemical reactions occur on the surface of organic aerosol particles,” says Wilson.

 

Gessner, also associated with the Chemical Sciences Division, will concentrate his Early Career research on gessnermolecular electronic function. Gessner’s work will use intense, ultrashort x-ray pulses to monitor the light‐induced creation and transport of charges in complex molecular systems. Some important proof-of-principle work that went into Gessner’s proposal was conducted at the ALS, exploring the unique capabilities of the light source in combination with pulsed optical lasers. “There’s so much expertise here in the fields of x-ray spectrometry and the physics of condensed phase systems,” says Gessner. “Our work at the ALS provided a great base to build on as I crafted my proposal.”

The awards serve as a rare opportunity for both scientists to delve deeper into their work and craft well-rounded research programs. “It’s a rare opportunity to really focus on a single problem and to put together a scientific program around it,” says Wilson.

“This early career award will allow me to grow this work into an actual program,” says Gessner. “It’s very gratifying to see the DOE acknowledging our work in this manner.”

A list of Early Career Research Program selectees, their institutions, and abstracts of their research projects is available at http://science.energy.gov/early-career/

 

 
The Sound of Science Print

Diamond Light Source, the UK national synchrotron facility, hosted a short story competition to introduce Diamond to a wider audience. The competition, Light Reading, invited submission of up to 3,000 words. Stories had to be inspired by, or take place at, Diamond

 

Ralston had this to say about her story: "The story idea came out of a recent  tour I gave at the Advanced Light Source, where I work. I started out feeling irritated that the tour was taking valuable time out of my day. By the end of it, though, the obvious enthusiasm of the group and their endless questions had made me see the synchrotron through their eyes-- as a truly extraordinary place where the progress of science is nearly tangible. Also, I love science fiction, so it seemed natural to put an alien in the story."

 

Ralston's story won first place. Judges had this to say: “This was a humane, witty and spellbinding entry, well deserving of the top spot. The writing is spare and straightforward, which rendered the interaction between a sickly, aged, mucus-coated alien and an overworked Diamond researcher strangely credible. There is an art to conveying just the right amount of information in a science-themed piece of fiction – not so little that the reader is lost, but not so much that the reader feels forcefed and unable to use her imagination. This writer has got the balancing act about right.”

 

 

 

The Sound of Science

By Corie Ralston

 

"And from here you can see the true size of the synchrotron," I say, pointing along the arc of the experimental hall. This part of the tour never fails to impress people, and I'm always a bit awed myself. "The x-rays that come off that ring are a billion time brighter than the sun and we use them to—"

"Excuse me."

I look at my tour group to see who has spoken, and find the Slug staring back at me with its three sets of protruding eyes. The rest of the tour, a middle school class from Oxford, is standing a discreet few feet away, which isn't surprising.  The aliens have a peculiar odor; petrol and over-cooked fish are the kindest descriptions I've heard. Plus, they leave a trail of mucus wherever they go.

The term 'Slug' isn’t the nicest name for our alien visitors, but it fits. The alien's lumpy, mucus-coated body sits in unpleasant contrast to the clean lines of the experimental hall. It stands on a Segway, and two tentacles grasp the handles in a parody of human hands. A viscous puddle has formed on the footstand.

"Do you study nucleic acid?" it says, its voice coming from somewhere under the eyestalks. "Here at Diamond Light Source?"

"Yes, we do. We have several structural biology beamlines, where we use x-ray diffraction to get the atomic structure of both proteins and nucleic acids—"

"What about three-strand DNA?"

I try to suppress my irritation. I'm doing this tour as a favor to a colleague, who is away at a conference. I should really be preparing for my own conference, plus I've got two papers that need editing and a fast-approaching grant deadline. Certainly the aliens already know everything they need to know about their three-stranded DNA.

"We haven’t used these beamlines to study three-stranded DNA or its associated proteins," I say. " Your proteins are difficult to isolate and impossible to grow up in our usual cell lines. But surely you know that."

"Triple is best," the alien says. "Far superior to double DNA. Triple interactions and a hundred times the amino acids."

"A hundred more things that can go wrong," I say. "A hundred times the difficulty in replication and expression and repair of DNA."

The Slug ignores me and goes on about the superiority of three-stranded DNA. I try to arrange my face in a semblance of patience. They are to be treated as honored guests, after all. But it's hard to imagine that the synchrotron offers any technology they haven't already developed themselves, with their light-speed ships and translator nanobots that allow them to talk in any human language. Why they are visiting earth at all is a mystery to me. Yet here they are, touring castles and historic villages, museums and zoos. And synchrotrons, like the Diamond Light Source.

Finally, the alien winds down. The cilia on its torso twitch, and its eyestalks undulate restlessly.

I want to argue. I want to ask why they feel the need to come here and tell us they are better than us. But instead, I go on with the tour. "All these beamlines are housed in the same building. " I lift a hand to indicate the huge span of the hall, the circular wall that goes off into the distance.  "And this makes for great acoustics. Let's just stop and listen for a moment."

From where we stand, we can hear the hum of computers, the swish and click of pumps and electronics, and underneath it all, the rise and fall of conversations from the scientists and engineers who work the floor. "Hear that?" I say. "It's the sound of discovery." This always gets them.

"You have all these techniques," the alien voice grates from behind me. "Why are you not studying triple DNA?"

I turn. I know I should do my best and just answer the question. I really do know that.

"We are not studying triple DNA here. I am not studying it because I do not have grant money to study it. And you know why? Because it would take years to figure out how to make our cell lines incorporate your superior triple DNA and produce your superior proteins. And years to figure out how to crystallize it. And I don't see any of you arrogant triple DNA slugs offering to help!"

I realize suddenly that everyone is staring at me. Two middle-schoolers who were previously fighting over a notebook have stopped to gape at my outburst. The adult chaperones look disapproving.

The alien doesn't respond, and if three pairs of eyes on stalks can manage to look hurt, somehow they do.

I represent science, I remind myself. I represent all scientists at the Diamond Light Source.

"Ah, sorry," I say. "Let's move on, shall we?"

The alien is quiet after that. It tags along behind the rest of the tour. I feel reproach in the whir of the Segway wheels against the polished floor. I almost wish it would start talking about its DNA again.

 

*

 

Three days later I am sitting in the atrium enjoying a moment of quiet and a cup of coffee when I suddenly smell petrol.

I look up to see an alien approaching me on a Segway. They all look alike to me, but I have a feeling this is the same one that was on my tour. It confirms my suspicion when it says, "I understand that slugs are considered disgusting by your people."

"It was unkind to call you a slug," I say. "I'm sorry."

Its eyestalks make circular patterns in the air, a sign of embarrassment. I know that now because I've been doing some reading about the aliens.

It's a beautiful day, with sunlight streaming through the high windows to light the atrium in soft whites. The alien's skin gleams wetly in the light. I wonder if it hates the dry air here.

"I enjoyed your tour," it says.

"Thank you."

"I understand I interrupt too much."

"That's okay."

I sip my coffee, wondering how I can get out of the conversation. The grant application awaits. And one of the beamlines is down because of a problem with an ion pump. I have to reschedule a whole week of users.

"I'm curious," I say. "Why have you traveled all those light years to see the museums of earth? How could they possibly be that interesting to you?"

"What we have not seen is interesting. What we have seen seems ordinary."

"Very profound." I immediately regret my sarcasm, but to my surprise the alien wiggles the fringes of cilia circling its eyestalks: its own form of laughter.

In spite of myself, I smile.

"And to reach for knowledge outside oneself -- that is extraordinary."

That's something my father would have said. He was always reading about new technology and new science. He loved tours. He would have loved to meet the aliens. He would have followed them around, peppering them with questions.

I wait, but the alien doesn't say more. Perhaps it is feeling awkward. Maybe it doesn't know what to say to me, either.

"Listen," I say. "I'm heading down to troubleshoot one of the beamlines. Do you want to come along?"

"Yes, please."

I walk next to the alien, the wheels of its Segway squeaking a little, and I badge us through onto the experimental floor. I've been studying pictures of our visitors, and I think I can now distinguish some of the machines it carries. The recording devices are slight bumps under its skin, embedded at regular intervals along its torso. Its breathing apparatus is a series of translucent veils that cover its skin in patches, fluttering up as we move along. I know they wear a thin film of material to keep their skin moist. Maybe on their home world they don't leak mucus all the time.

"How do you travel on your home world?" I say. "Surely you don't have Segways?"

"Where we live is much like one of your swamps. We half-swim, I think you would say."

We stop at the broken beamline, and I lead the alien back along the beampipe to a cluster of pumps and racks of electronics. It has to abandon its Segway along the way, and I try not to look at the trail its footpad leaves on the floor. I'll have to apologize to the cleaning staff later.

Now that I'm here, I'm wishing I hadn't invited the alien down. I'll tell it a little more about the beamline, then try to politely suggest it go tour something else. Maybe I can palm it off on one of my colleagues in the molecular biology lab.

"Here," the alien says. It extends a gray tentacle to one of the bellows connecting one section of pipe to an optics tank.

"Here what?" I say.

"A small leak. I plug it." It retrieves its arm back into its torso. A glistening pellet covers the place on the bellows that it touched. I look at the ion gauge, see that the pressure has started to drop. So the pump wasn't broken after all.

"How did you know there was a leak there?" I say.

"We have very sensitive recording equipment. We record not just sight and sound, but pressure and smell and other characteristics of the environment."

"But how does it work?"

"I cannot say," it says.

"Of course."

Maybe I haven't kept the disappointment out of my voice, because its eye stalks start to wave, and it says, "I do not mean to be disrespectful. Let me ask. Do you have an automobile?"

"Yes."

"Do you understand its operation?"

"Well, basically. It uses gasoline to fire pistons, which then, er, well, turn something, a crank of some sort… in the engine." I stare back at the alien for a moment. "I see your point."

"I am not the inventor of these sensing devices, or of the ships we travel in."

"Okay. But surely some of you understand the technology."

"It was given to us."

"Was it another race that gave you the technology?" I say. I imagine a universe filled with omniscient alien races, the vast knowledge they must possess. Maybe they've even unraveled the secrets of the birth of the universe itself—

"No," the alien says.

"No?"

"My people invented the ships, and the rest of our technology. But only some know how to build and maintain and fix."

"Only some of you, as in, not any of you that have come here?" I think I'm beginning to understand what the aliens are doing here.

"We wanted to travel, to see the universe. Like you travel in a car. We travel in a ship."

I study the alien for a moment, wondering exactly how much recording equipment it wears. "You're tourists," I say.

"Yes. We contribute for many years for the betterment of our race. Now we are free to travel and explore."

"You're retired tourists."

"Yes."

"That explains a lot," I say.

"Many wish to see what they haven't seen before. And many hope to find cures for all that kills us."

"Well, many of us hope that, too. That's what the work here is all about."

"No, you don't understand. We are retired because we are sick."

I study the alien some more.

"Only the sick are free to travel," it says.

"So sick that you can't work?"

"So sick that we will die soon, and we would like to spend the last of our days touring."

"But you must have ways to study your physiology. You must have the equivalent of synchrotrons on your home planet, and medicines and technology--" I trail off. To someone who lived a hundred years ago on earth, the technology today would seem miraculous. Yet we still have not cured cancer, or a myriad of other diseases.

"A hundred times the things that can go wrong," the alien says. Its eyes move up and down, a smile. "As you say."

They are advanced in metallurgy and mechanics. Not advanced enough in the biology of themselves. Not unlike us.

"All creatures die," I say.

"Just so."

Its breathing veils move up and down in the air currents, and every now and then tiny rainbows shimmer to life on the surfaces. I hadn't noticed that before.

My father died of lung cancer just five years ago, right before the aliens arrived. I would love to find a cure for cancer, too.

I start to think about ways that we could grow up cells that would incorporate triple-stranded DNA. It would take a lot of work. There are no preliminary experiments to put into the grant application. Yet their physiological building blocks are amino acids and nucleic acids. They harness oxygen for energy. They have cells and organs and circulatory systems and eyeballs. In some ways, they really aren't so different from us.

I stand there with the alien, listening to the rhythmic clang of pumps, the hiss of pneumatics and the whir of motors.

"Maybe I can look into that triple DNA system of yours," I say.

It's too late for these aliens, the current visitors. But we could help the ones that come next. And studying their nucleic makeup would certainly tell us something about our own. Maybe reaching outside ourselves is exactly what we need to do. Maybe that is the extraordinary that science is all about.

 
Twelve Superlatve User Weeks Print

September 28, 2011

Twice this month, the ALS achieved a 12-week running average reliability of over 99%--something without precedent according to Dave Richardson. The most recent 12-week running average for MTBF was above 78.5 hours, and the MTTR was 38 minutes. See charts below for detailed information. Congratulations to all who helped achieve these successes!

 

 
Summer 2011 Shutdown Update Print

The 2011 ALS summer shutdown is turning out to be quite productive. Read updates of shutdown activities and see pictures here. This page will be updated, so check back regularly!

 

THE DOME of the Building 6 roof is in need of repair both inside and out

 

The exterior of the roof is nearly re-shingled! See the newest images here, taken from atop the dome!

 

Construction crews built scaffolding around the outside of the dome's roof so they could access the whole dome safely.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Asphalt shingles that used to leak during heavy rains will be replaced with "cool roof" technology.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The dome is half done in this photograph. You can clearly see the old (bottom) and new (top) shingles!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Construction crews have been hard at work all month reroofing the ALS dome! What a gorgeous view they get from the office!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It's nearly complete. The ALS's new "cool roof" will be complete soon!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

No update on the dome's interior. The plastic sheeting is still in place. Stay tuned to see the final result...

 

Scaffolding was built on top of the large crane in the ALS building. Workers will be scraping lead paint away from 30% of the dome's interior. A "lead lock" coating will then be applied to protect occupants from exposure to the remaining lead paint.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A plastic sheet now hangs between the interior of the dome roof and the delicate controls below. This will prevent stray pieces of hardware or lead paint chips from falling.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Super Bend Magnets get new cold heads - every year

 

 

This is one of the ALS's three super bend magnets (super conducting center bend in SR 4, 8, and 12). The cold heads (helium compressors) on the magnets must be swapped out every year. This involves warming the magnets up from their sub five kelvin operating temperature, breaking the vacuum, swapping the cold head, reestablishing the vacuum and cooling the magnet back down. This process takes a minimum of three weeks and is one of the things that drives our need for an annual extended shutdown.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sector 6 gets ready for a new Elliptically Polarizing Undulator

 

 

 

This EPU has been undergoing magnetic testing in the building 15 high bay for several months. It's final location is expected to be in sector 6.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This new vacuum chamber was installed during the shutdown, as well as a new chicane magnet. These preparations have prepared this downstream section of straight 6 for the new EPU, which will be installed over several 2-day shutdowns in the coming months.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

POWER SUPPLIES are also being replaced during this shutdown. An old QFA and an old SD power supply were both removed in preparation for newer models.

 

 

Crews remove the old sextupole power supply using a counter weight and a 4-ton crane. Two new sextupole power supplies will replace this old one, providing a tested backup should it ever be needed.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The old QFA power supply was also removed in preparation of a new one. The new QFA will be less sensitive to line voltage sags that cause beam dumps. Both power supply upgrade projects will aid in more reliable beam delivery, but are mainly to replace aging equipment and keep the ALS running smoothly.

 
Students in Uruguay Collect Protein Crystallography Data at the ALS Print

The Institut Pasteur de Montevideo (IPM) in Uruguay introduced students to remote protein crystallography data collection with the help of Peter Zwart at Beamline 5.0.2. A two-week, international workshop on macromolecular crystallography (MX) and its applications instructed 20 PhD students, postdocs and research assistants on the complete MX process.

Read more...
 
Everything You Wanted To Know About ALS Proposals and Beam Time Allocation Print

Did you ever wonder how the proposal review and beam time allocation process works? This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it , User Services Group leader, provides current and prospective users an in-depth look at the process.

Read more...
 
ALS Controls Upgrade: Meeting the Needs of a Growing Facility Print

Users may never notice it, but a major controls and instrumentation upgrade is underway at the ALS. Over the next four years, the controls system that runs all aspects of the synchrotron, from injection to magnets, will be decentralized and its instrumentation replaced. These improvements will coordinate with recent software upgrades to improve efficiency, beam stability, and “disaster scenario” control.

Read more...
 
Optical Metrology Lab Receives New Funding for Upgrades Print

The Optical Metrology Lab (OML) at the ALS is renowned for its precision and technical expertise in metrology of x-ray optics. It has achieved this notoriety with only two full-time staff members and extremely limited laboratory facilities. Now, with new funding from the DOE that provides $1.2M to build a new clean room laboratory with environmental controls, and the promise of $1.4M to upgrade and replace outdated instrumentation, the OML will be able to achieve an even higher level of excellence.

Read more...
 
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