Office of Science funding ensured
Contact: Roger Falcone,
The funding situation for the ALS and other DOE facilities within the Office of Science looked particularly dire last month, as congressional leaders had indicated that fiscal year (FY) 2007 budgets, in which the Office of Science was expected to receive a major increase, might be held at FY06 levels. The ALS and other laboratories, universities, and Department of Energy facilities kept our leadership in Washington informed about these impacts, and users communicated with their congressional representatives in the hope that Congress would pass a FY07 budget that reflected the intent of both the executive and congressional branches, expressed last year, to fully fund the Office of Science.
Recent indications are that these efforts have met with some success. Although we have not received an updated financial plan, our budget is expected be closer to the original FY07 levels rather than the FY06 levels. This should help us implement our plan for strong user support, to undertake needed maintenance, and to maintain momentum on important beamline projects. Thanks to all the members of the ALS user community who worked to make this happen.
Beyond the lone-pair model for structurally distorted metal oxides
Contact: Russell Egdell,
"Ferroelectricity," by analogy to ferromagnetism, is defined as the presence of spontaneous electrical polarization in a material, often arising from distortions in the material's crystal structure. In oxides of the metals lead and bismuth, such distortions were for many years attributed to the existence of "lone pair" electrons: pairs of chemically inert, nonbonding valence electrons in hybrid orbitals that leave noticeable voids in the crystal structure. At the ALS, researchers from the U.K., Ireland, and the U.S. have now obtained definitive experimental evidence that this lone-pair model must be revised. High-resolution x-ray photoemission spectroscopy (XPS) and soft x-ray emission spectroscopy (XES) have clarified the subtle electronic origins of the prototypical distortions in these crystal structures. The results have important implications for the tantalizing possibility of spintronic or superconducting devices combining ferroelectric and ferromagnetic properties. Read more...
Publication about this research: D.J. Payne, R.G. Egdell, A. Walsh, G.W. Watson, J. Guo, P.-A. Glans, T. Learmonth, and K.E. Smith, "Electronic origins of structural distortions in post-transition metal oxides: Experimental and theoretical evidence for a revision of the lone pair model," Phys. Rev. Lett. 96, 157403 (2006).
Breakthrough research on platinum–nickel alloys
Contact: V.R. Stamenkovic,
Two out of three of the kinetic barriers to the practical use of polymer electrolyte membrane (PEM) hydrogen fuel cells in automobiles have been breached: the impractically high amount of extra energy needed for the oxidation reduction reaction (ORR) on the catalyst and the loss of catalytic surface areas available for ORR. Using a combination of probes and calculations, a group of scientists has demonstrated that the Pt3Ni(111) alloy is ten times more active for ORR than the corresponding Pt(111) surface and ninety times more active than the current state-of-the-art Pt/C catalysts used in existing PEM fuel cells. This new variation of the platinum–nickel alloy is the most active oxygen-reducing catalyst ever reported. Read more...
Publication about this research: V.R. Stamenkovic, B. Fowler, B.S. Mun, G. Wang, P.N. Ross, C.A. Lucas, and N.M. Markovi, "Improved oxygen reduction activity on Pt3Ni(111) via increased surface site availability," Science 315, 5811 (2007).
Looking inside the plant cell for biofuel answers
Contact: Paul Adams,
This month, global energy firm BP selected a Berkeley Lab/UC Berkeley/University of Illinois consortium to lead a $500 million research effort to develop new sources of energy and reduce the impact of energy consumption on the environment. The funding will create the Energy Biosciences Institute (EBI), which initially will focus its research on biotechnology to produce biofuels—that is, turning plants and plant materials, including corn, field waste, switchgrass, and algae, into transportation fuels.
Basic research will be a fundamental goal of the EBI: exploring how the cell wall is made in plants, how cellulose can be best broken down, and developing new biological methods for the conversion of the cellulose to different fuels. Several important tools for these investigations are available at the ALS. According to Paul Adams, head of the Berkeley Center for Structural Biology , "Right now we don’t have a detailed picture of what the plant cell wall looks like, but many of the tools are now becoming available. It will be possible to look at the structures of the cellular machinery that creates the cell wall, and also the enzymes that can be used to break it down." Protein crystallography (Beamlines 4.2.2, 5.0.1, 5.0.2, 5.0.3, 8.2.1, 8.2.2, 8.3.1, 12.3.1), small-angle x-ray scattering (Beamlines 7.3.3, 12.3.1), x-ray microdiffraction (Beamline 12.3.2), and scanning transmission x-ray microscopy (STXM) (Beamlines 5.3.2, 11.0.2) are some of the instruments at the ALS that could be used as part of this unprecedented research effort. In addition, Beamline 9.0.2 (the site of detailed flame and combustion research) could be an important resource for the EBI when it later turns its attention to testing the fuels the program is generating.
Demolition of Building 10 set to begin
Contact: Steve Rossi,
Building 10, a failing World War II-era structure on the southwest side of the ALS, is on schedule for demolition this spring to make way for a new User Support Building that will provide much-improved staging, lab, and office space for the ALS community. Previous occupants of Building 10, including the Chem Lab, User Shop, and Controls Group, have now all been relocated to alternate sites in and around the ALS.
Aerial view of the ALS and its surrounding structures, including Building 10 at the lower right.
The empty building will be turned over to the demolition contractor in March, at which time utility deactivation and abatement will begin. As a result of vibration testing done last fall, the actual heavy demolition and removal of the building and its foundations has been scheduled during the next ALS shutdown, from May 14 through June 26, to avoid vibration problems during user operations. During that time, parking along the roads around Buildings 10 and 80 will be affected, and exits from the ALS through Building 10 will be closed off. A Webcam will be set up on the site to monitor and record the demolition process. Joe Harkins is the demolition project director for Berkeley Lab, and Steve Rossi is the user representative. Please contact Steve (
, 510-486-6793) with any questions or problems that may arise regarding the demolition.
ALS floor operators ensure safety
Contact: John Pruyn,
Davy Xu and Matt Abreu recently joined the ALS as floor operators. Both hail from the East Bay, Davy by way of Martinez and UCLA, and Matt by way of Castro Valley and UC Berkeley. As a boat mechanic, Matt was able to work on mechanical systems at the peak of their performance. His physics degree and mechanical experience are a good combination for the precise demands of his new position. Davy was first attracted to nuclear engineering and physics in middle school, and working at the ALS is the fulfillment of a long-held fantasy to work at a DOE lab. When asked what stood out for them most in their new jobs, Matt replied, "Everyone is so friendly. People who don't have time to take, take time." Davy agreed, and added "This place is huge. There was nothing like it at UCLA. I can't believe I get paid to do this."
ALS Floor Operators Matt Abreu (right) and Davy Xu [center, seated at the Equipment Protection System (EPS) control panel] prepare to open the Personal Safety Shutter (PSS) and the Photon Stop (PS), allowing light down the beamline. Floor Operations Section Leader John Pruyn (left), looks on.
As floor operators, Matt and Davy help to ensure operational safety of the beamlines. A major part of this is determining whether a beamline is ready to be brought online for the first time or brought back online through a detailed key-enabling procedure: checking for outstanding personnel safety and equipment bypasses, performing valid radiation and interlock tests, filling out active shielding change forms, and safety inspection of radiation shielding configuration, vacuum integrity, and fast valve systems. After the floor operator successfully executes these checks and the Experiment Safety Sheet is completed, they will enable the beamline for the users.
Call for abstracts: Coherence 2007
Contact: Janos Kirz,
This year's International Workshop on Phase Retrieval and Coherent Scattering (Coherence 2007) is the fourth in a series. The conference will be devoted to coherent x-ray physics, and three topics in particular will be considered: imaging with coherent x rays, dynamics via photon correlation, and opportunities with new sources. The meeting will take place June 25–28, 2007, at the Asilomar Conference Center, located on the beautiful Monterey Peninsula.
Meeting attendees are invited to submit a one-page abstract for consideration as an oral or poster presentation at Coherence 2007. Detailed instructions regarding format and submission procedures are available under "Abstracts" on the Coherence 2007 Web site. The deadline for abstract submissions is March 1, 2007.
More information about the meeting, registration, accommodation, and tourism in the Monterey Bay Area is also available on the Coherence 2007 Web site.