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Celebrating Success and Looking Forward in Challenging Times Print
Tuesday, 21 January 2014 09:13
Director Roger Falcone (center) celebrates the 20th anniversary of the ALS along with four current and former Berkeley Lab directors (from left) David Shirley, Charles (Chuck) Shank, current LBNL director Paul Alivisatos, and Andy Sessler.

While reflecting on the coming year at the ALS, Director Roger Falcone noted two important themes. First, we just had our most productive year ever, with 2200 users and 800 publications in 2013. These record performances are a result of the dedication and skills of ALS staff, strong support from the Department of Energy, and the interest and successes of our users. A second theme is the challenging federal budget environment, which has resulted in science funding cuts nationally and locally at the ALS.

“While the major metrics by which we are judged—users and publications—are our best ever, our funding challenges may also be at their greatest,” says Falcone.

Reviewing our recent successes can help us look forward—Falcone points to projects such as the MAESTRO and COSMIC beamlines, the brightness upgrade of our storage ring, and our precision optical metrology lab, all of which reflect DOE investments and the importance of the ALS. These new capabilities are allowing us to continue to provide cutting-edge capabilities and are responsive to critical needs.

“When we look back over the last few years, we see that the DOE has given us considerable resources for facility upgrades and new instruments in addition to strong funding for daily operations.” says Falcone. “The success of these important projects is a credit to the skills of the ALS and broader LBNL staff, as well as a sign of the commitment to ALS that DOE is making.”

The question for the future, as Falcone sees it, is: “How do we continue to respond to emerging needs with reduced funding today and on the horizon?”  The short answer is that we need to optimize and prioritize. “It is likely we will not be able to support everything we have been doing in the past while simultaneously building the new capabilities we envision for the future,” says Falcone. “What we will do is identify the most successful activities at the ALS and continue to support them.” He adds that we will have to also identify the most important future needs as defined by the ALS user community and then optimize how we spend resources to enhance capabilities for users.

Falcone sees demands from scientists, DOE mission priorities, and collaboration with industry as key factors in how the ALS needs to prioritize programs going forward. He points to sustainable energy research and our response—the proposed AMBER beamline—which will serve mission-oriented programs at Berkeley and other Labs, including the Joint Center for Artificial Photosynthesis (JCAP), the Joint Center for Energy Storage Research (JCESR), the Batteries for Advanced Transportation Technologies (BATT) program, several Energy Frontier Research Centers (EFRCs), and research activities at other labs, such as the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, that use the ALS. Additionally, building a new inelastic x-ray scattering beamline will position our facility to serve the increasingly important area of quantum materials. Further, a modern structural biology beamline with micro-focus capability, funded largely by Howard Hughes Medical Institute, will keep us on the frontier of biology and pharmaceutical research and allow us to continue to provide both industry and individual users with world-leading x-ray protein crystallography capability. More broadly, Deputy Director for Science Steve Kevan, together with the user community, has developed a new and comprehensive ALS Strategic Plan in which these projects emerged as leading opportunities.

Additionally, development of a scientific and technical case for a potential upgrade of the ALS to diffraction-limited x-rays from our storage ring continues to be encouraged by our users and staff, says Falcone. This upgrade, which would allow ALS to stay on a path of facility upgrades that has characterized 20 years of operation, would make the light source 100 times brighter and more coherent than at present, and would allow ALS users to excel in the understanding of modern, heterogeneous materials using chemical and 3D spatial resolution. These materials have properties that often vary on the nanoscale, and are important for basic energy science research and advanced technologies. Early technical and scientific ideas around this major ALS upgrade concept are being developed with resources from the LBNL Directorate Office.

In summary, a major theme this year will be prioritization, says Falcone. Together with determining how to optimize operations and become more efficient, we will focus on serving the increasing demand from users and producing even more science.

“In many ways, ALS has been prioritizing for the past 20 years, as our staff and users have always had more great ideas than the funding available to realize those ideas,” says Falcone. “This constraint is a natural part of a competitive scientific community; it’s perhaps just more intense right now.”