LBNL Masthead A-Z IndexBerkeley Lab mastheadU.S. Department of Energy logoPhone BookJobsSearch
ALSNews Features
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


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.

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.

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.

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.

Solving Structures with Collaborative Crystallography Print

The Berkeley Center for Structural Biology’s Collaborative Crystallography (CC) program is making major advancements in solving protein structures, especially for users involved in high-throughput projects. The CC program is an NIH-funded, peer-reviewed service that allows external users to apply for both beam time and the support of a crystallographer to perform experiments and subsequent data analyses.

<< Start < Prev 1 2 3 4 Next > End >>

Page 4 of 4