We sat down recently with Principal Scientific Engineering Associate Warren Byrne to get his take on the history and future of the ALS, from an accelerator point of view.
How long have you been at the Lab?
I’ve been at the Lab for about 37 years in March. I started in the operations group at the Bevatron, doing shift work. When I was working the swing shift I didn’t come in until 4:00pm, so in the mornings I would work on restoring my 1902 Maybeck home in the Berkeley Hills. Home restoration was my “other life” for about 13 years. The house was recently written up in American Bungalow magazine.
What are some highlights from your time at the ALS?
I moved to the ALS as it was being built in 1992, starting out in the operations group and then moving into the accelerator physics group. For the past 16 years, I’ve been in charge of overseeing the injector system, which consists of the linac and the booster synchrotron and the electron gun. I’ve really enjoyed living so close to work, being able to almost literally walk to the office. Because of that, I’ve also become the go-to person when things are going wrong at the ALS in the middle of the night! It’s a 24/7 operation, and we take the status of the beam really seriously.
What has kept you at the ALS all these years?
Well, I feel like it has literally kept me alive! I don’t have a commute…. Even if I drive in, there are only two stop signs before I’m here. I can be here in 5 minutes. When I’m at work, I’m moving around all day, whether on the beamline floor or around the Lab at lunchtime. I’m afraid I would be terribly lazy if it weren’t for work. I grew up in Montclair and have lived in Berkeley since 1970, so it’s definitely home to me. It’s also been really interesting and challenging to be a part of this facility all these years and see the machine through multiple upgrades. The technical challenges are just so unique. It never gets boring.
Looking forward, what do you see as potential in the ALS?
There is a lot of potential in an upgrade of the ALS to make the beam smaller and brighter. Of course that requires a huge revamp of the facility; pulling out and replacing all the magnets and in order to get the small beam size the magnetic fields have to be quite strong. To get strong fields, pole tips need to be closer together, which means the vacuum chamber has to be a lot smaller so there’s less room for the beam to travel. With such a small aperture, the way we have to inject the beam is totally different. Unlike the current injection scheme where a few electron bunches are added each shot to the existing beam, after the upgrade, the entire storage ring beam will be swapped out into an accumulator ring, while at the same time a higher intensity beam from the accumulator is injected into the storage ring. The beam in the accumulator ring then gets topped up before the next beam swap-out. This exchange of beams between the storage ring and accumulator will occur at intervals of several tens of seconds.
After many years as a researcher followed by a few in government and policy, Ashley White sees her new position as ALS Director of Communications as a perfect blend of it all. “I’m thrilled to be back in a research environment, since I started out my career as a researcher and loved being in the lab,” she says. “When I walk around the ALS and see all the tin foil and the beamline equipment, it feels like home.”
After completing her PhD in Materials Science from the University of Cambridge, White says she was looking for something “a little bit different” and heard about an opportunity to spend a year on Capitol Hill as a special policy advisor in the U.S. Senate. “I thought I’d just do it for a year and go back to being a researcher,” she says, but the experience launched a new focus for her career.
White spent one year as a Materials Research Society/Optical Society Congressional Science and Engineering Fellow, working in Minnesota Senator Al Franken’s office. Her focus was mainly on STEM education, which she says aligned nicely with the science education work she had done as a grad student through Science and Engineering Experiments for Kids (SEEK), hosting elementary and middle school workshops. White wrote legislation to create a STEM master teacher corps, a program that would identify top science, engineering, and math teachers and provide them with further professional development.
After her stint on Capitol Hill, White continued on to the executive branch, working in the Materials Research Division of the National Science Foundation as an American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) Science and Technology Policy fellow. “I really enjoyed getting that broad overview, seeing how things worked in both branches of government,” she says.
Toward the end of her time at the NSF, White had focused on materials for sustainable development, which led to her next position at the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC). The USGBC sets standards for green building practices and certifies green buildings through LEED, which gave White the opportunity to interface with industry.
White moved to the Bay Area last year and began to think about how she could combine her recent work experience and her passion for research, which led her to Berkeley Lab. “I was really looking to get back into a research environment,” she says. “I knew that I wanted that collaborative mindset and that I could contribute my knowledge of how things work at a federal level, and how they influence what researchers are able to do.”
The collaborative mindset was a hallmark of White’s conversations about working at Berkeley Lab—“everyone mentioned it when I talked with them about what it was like to work here,” she says. “During the interview process, I was really struck by how positive and welcoming everyone was.”
In addition to her passion for science, White has developed her passion for music throughout her life. She has played violin since the age of six and has developed and taught university courses on the connections between science and music. Locally she performs with the Bay Area Rainbow Symphony.
In his new role as ALS Engineering Lead, Ken Chow has taken on a consolidated role that was previously split between mechanical and electrical. As of August, a reorganization of ALS engineering has Chow overseeing all engineering tasks at the ALS, which includes magnetic and vacuum systems, mechanical engineering and technology, and electrical and controls engineering.
Chow has only been in his new role for about a month, but he already has a vision of greater communication. “I’m planning to meet regularly with engineering leads at the ALS,” he says. “I really see an important part of my job as helping to communicate engineering-related matters within ALS, to engineering staff, scientists and management, but also between ALS Division and Engineering Division.”
Chow is anticipating that a new engineering systems program being developed in the Engineering Division by Engineering Systems Lead Daniela Leitner will be rolled out to all engineering staff soon. “Here at the ALS I see us using a version that is tailored to our specific needs,” says Chow. “We’ll be doing the same work but I think an improved structure will add clarity to our engineering practices and also yield greater consistency between different projects.”
Another primary focus in his new role will be ALS-U. “It’s going to be a big challenge to keep current ALS projects going and to also try to get ALS-U off the ground at the same time,” he says. “ALS-U is going to be a really exciting upgrade.”
Prior to his new role, Chow’s work was mainly focused on beamlines and endstations—he was involved in larger beamline projects such as MAESTRO and COSMIC, providing engineering management and support.
“It’s a great time to be here; there are a lot of great projects going on and the prospect of ALS-U is very exciting,” Chow says. “It’s always fun to be involved with something like this.”
The new Safety Manager at the ALS, Scott Taylor, is not so new. Taylor has been working at Berkeley Lab for 30 years now, starting in his early days as a biofuels researcher working with Melvin Calvin. Taylor isn’t new to safety either—he has been on the Lab’s Safety Review Committee since 1992 and the division safety coordinator for Life Sciences for the past six years.
Taylor’s first foray into safety at the Lab was back in 1990, when he was working in research medicine at Donner Lab. DOE safety inspections were announced and Taylor, being the youngest member of the team, was tasked with making sure his building was ready for safety inspections. There weren’t division safety coordinators back in those days, Taylor explains.
Joining the ALS reminds Taylor of his early days at the Lab, when he felt energized by the eclectic mix of coworkers from various disciplines all working toward a common goal.
“I liked those experiences because they make you realize that there are so many things you don’t know and you’re outside of your normal comfort zone,” says Taylor. “And that really defines the ALS—there’s a huge breadth of research interest and so the safety scope is also enormous.”
Taylor sees many safety challenges that are unique to the ALS, and many hazards are so intricately intertwined that the mere level of complexity itself is a challenge. “We have such a huge influx of users from all over the world,” says Taylor. “And the DOE has a safety culture that’s probably different from anywhere else in the world, with a higher degree of compliance and a reduced acceptance of risk.”
He’s been inspired by how welcoming everyone at the ALS has been, and comforted in the knowledge that his friend and previous ALS safety manager, Jim Floyd, is just a phone call away.
Taylor sees a couple of big projects taking main stage in the near future, the first being a new work planning and control system that will modify and streamline the work authorization process. He’s been intimately involved in the creation of the system as project manager for the past four years, which will definitely be an advantage when it comes to implementation, he says.
The second major focus, as Taylor sees it, will be the electrical safety changes coming to the Lab. “We’ll have to learn how to apply those so that we are working safely, but still maintaining our high level of scientific productivity.”
User office guest registration “specialists” Angel Hernandez and Giselle Jiles play a unique role at the ALS—they are often the first line of face-to-face contact new users have when they arrive for their beamtime. As such, the two see themselves as the caregivers of the ALS user experience.
“We are here to do everything in our powers to make sure they get down to that beamline,” says Jiles. “And the best customer service we can offer produces the best results for the scientists,” adds Hernandez.
Hernandez manages guest registration, travel, stipends, and publications, while Jiles manages the reception desk in the mezzanine. When asked what they most enjoy about what they like to call their “meet and greet” role at the ALS, the two agree in their enthusiasm about supporting science. Hernandez has been in his role at the ALS for five years; Jiles for two.
That support starts long before users arrive at the ALS, with making sure that they everything they need to make the check-in process seamless. “They get every detail to make the transition as smooth as possible,” says Jiles. “We give them almost an overload of information!”
Once users arrive, they usually see Jiles first for processing of travel documents, then head over to Hernandez for badging and publications management. They both enjoy building relationships with users and are often rewarded for their customer service role with treats from all around the world, invitations to visit, and birth announcements. “The users know that I have a weakness for chocolate,” jokes Jiles.
Hernandez describes his job as “culturally infusing” because of the range of global visitors he regularly interacts with. “We get to see how each segment of the world reacts to us and, in a sense, we’re also representing the United States,” he says.
“It’s really interesting to hear about what users are researching and how it is going to affect our lives down the line,” says Hernandez. “We almost have a look into the future from that respect.”
“I tell some of the scientists: I want to get you down onto that floor, because I am going to benefit from what you do,” says Giselle. “I don’t think I’ve ever worked in an environment where people are as passionate about what they do,”
The weekend before the ALS was scheduled to start up again after the most recent shutdown, mechanical technician Monroe Thomas kept things running on schedule by coming in on a Saturday to pull a 300-pound capacitor “uphill” out of the new RF power supply. It’s just another “(not so) typical” day at work for him, he says. But it’s his reliability operating cranes and supervising moves of heavy equipment around the ALS that plays an integral role in keeping the facility going.
Monroe has been a part of the ALS “mech tech” team for the past 14 years and is the point person for all critical equipment and endstation moves. Though he’s training another mechanical technician to operate the crane, it’s Monroe who is called upon for critical moves. He plays a key role in shutdowns—whether it’s installing magnets and undulators or taking an endstation on- or off-line. For bigger jobs he coordinates with the riggers from the Facilities division.
“The biggest challenge of this job is simply picking things up, because they’re not engineered to lift,” says Monroe. “So you have to figure out how to pick up each individual piece without damaging other parts.”
Monroe came to the ALS after 20 years in the military and about 10 years in the aftermarket motorcycle business, where he worked assembling and packaging parts for resale. He maintains this interest, riding his motorcycle every day and performing all his own maintenance work.
Though he’s a common sight around the ALS, Monroe surmises it’s his epic homemade cheesecakes that have made him well-known (he once brought in about 24 cheesecakes to share; his recipes are a well-guarded secret).
When asked to recall a particularly memorable moment in his time at the ALS, Monroe harkens back to his first year here, when he and a few other members of his team spent 17 hours straight working with the crane to change out a magnet cooling coil. And yet, he’s stayed on 14 years running after that grueling event.
“It’s the variety of work and the variety of people I get to interact with here that I like the most about this job,” he says.
Procedures Center Manager Karen Nunez has been working somewhat “behind the scenes” at the ALS for the past seven years, ensuring that documentation for the many procedures involved in ALS operations is clear, correct, and up to date. She works with a plethora of ALS engineers, operators, technicians, and scientists, who all lend their technical expertise to her work.
“I maintain the documents that help people maintain the accelerator,” says Nunez. “In my position I get to interact with various individuals at the ALS, and everyone has a specialized understanding of the accelerator based on their knowledge and work they do. I get the benefit of learning a bit about these different perspectives while recording the necessary information for everyone else.” She feels that documentation is the best means for retaining and sharing the knowledge that is needed.
The procedures at ALS include everything from how users safely enter and operate the hutches at the beamlines and how operators start up and shut down the accelerator, to how the electrical maintenance techs test each beamline radiation safety system. The documents she’s charged with fulfill safety, compliance, and basic ALS operational needs, plus a good many others that serve to remind staff of what is needed for jobs that are rarely done, such as removing and installing an insertion device. In her position, document control, technical writing, and project management all come into play.
Nunez regularly coordinates reviews and updates dozens of procedures each year, and there are always additional projects that arise as upgrades occur and safety requirements change. A recent example is the new lock-out-tag-out (LOTO) procedure that’s being implemented Lab-wide; Nunez will have to revise and implement new documentation to go along with it. She stays on top of everything with her favorite software, Smartsheet, which she says is “like Excel-plus.”
When asked about one thing she enjoys about her job, she says: “For everyone who works on procedures, it is like another task on top of their main responsibilities; however, I really appreciate that when it comes time to do so, everyone is ready to lend their support and help out when needed.”
Procedural documentation is necessary for ALS functionality, and although much of it is invisible to users, it is obviously something that contributes greatly towards allowing work to run more smoothly at the ALS.
The recent ALS power supply failure was one of the most challenging projects that Electronics Engineer Technical Superintendent Tim Kuneli has worked on in his 12 years at the ALS. And judging by how quickly ALS engineering and accelerator physics staff resolved the issue and the ingenuity involved in the fix, it may also be one of the most successful projects he's been involved in.
“There were easily 15-20 people involved and we had to really look at what we needed and then configure, test, and reconfigure to make it work,” says Kuneli. “We were up and running again in less than a week.”
Kuneli came to Berkeley Lab as an electronic maintenance tech 15 years ago, after serving 11 years active duty in the Navy and eight years for General Electric, where he worked as an electronics calibration technician. In 2003, Kuneli retired from the Navy Reserves after achieving the rank of Senior Chief Petty Office. After working for the Lab’s central shop and for the Spallation Neutron Source Project (SNS), he was then assigned as the lead in the electronics maintenance shop at the ALS in 2002. In 2003 he became the electronics maintenance supervisor for the ALS. He’s also a member of the Lab’s electrical safety review committee and supervises all the techs on the hill.
The shop runs 24/7 except during shutdowns, when the seven employees’ times are aligned with scheduled shutdown projects. Kuneli and his team take care of all ALS electronics maintenance, making sure machines are running properly, troubleshooting new equipment, and supporting users’ electronics and equipment needs. Preventive maintenance is also a big part of his job, and that will hopefully get easier in the near future with a new database that will automatically schedule regular ALS maintenance tasks.
There are no “typical” days for the electronics maintenance shop, or the installation and fabrication shop that employs a staff of three and runs concurrently downstairs. Their tasks are driven by what’s happening at the ALS and what users need. If there’s new equipment coming in to the ALS, Kuneli’s team does extensive safety testing before it’s installed. If users are having trouble with equipment setup, Kuneli or someone from his team help them troubleshoot the problem.
During this shutdown, Kuneli’s team will be working on installing new power supplies, controls upgrades, the radio frequency upgrade, changing water interlocks, and some smaller safety projects. Kuneli notes that one of the challenges particular to the ALS is finding repair and replacement parts for older equipment.
“This job is unique in that you can be here 20 years and still not know about everything,” Kuneli says. “There’s so much to do and learn that you never get bored.”