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Ring Leaders
Monroe Thomas, Mechanical Technician Print


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.

Karen Nunez, Procedures Center Manager Print

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.

Tim Kuneli, Electronics Maintenance Group Print

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.”

Ringleader: Ken Goldberg Print

Kenneth Goldberg, deputy director of the Center for X-Ray Optics (CXRO), has been a part of the ALS since 1993, when he began setting up one of the first experiments on the floor, a project in coherent EUV optics. After completing his PhD in physics at Cal in 1997, Goldberg joined CXRO as a staff scientist.

These days, Goldberg’s work is funded by SEMATECH, a consortium of semiconductor manufacturing companies that includes IBM, Intel, GlobalFoundries, and Samsung. SEMATECH, through CXRO, funds several research and engineering projects at ALS beamlines, including Goldberg’s beamline, 11.3.2. CXRO has a long history of collaboration with SEMATECH; CXRO scientists and engineers have built many of the advanced experimental tools for photolithography research that are keys to finding new directions in chip-making technology.

“Semiconductor manufacturers are always looking for ways to make chips that are smaller, faster, cheaper,” says Goldberg. “They follow Moore’s Law.”

What’s helping SEMATECH keep up with Moore’s Law these days is the new extreme-ultraviolet-wavelength microscope, SHARP, that Goldberg’s group commissioned in June 2013. Developed in-house by CXRO scientists, engineers, and technicians, SHARP performs unique measurements for semiconductor manufacturing research, focusing on photomask imaging, a diagnostic tool that is critical for the commercialization of EUV lithography. Photomasks, the glass plates that carry the patterns for each single layer of a computer chip’s circuitry, are extraordinarily complex and even a nanoscale defect can ruin a circuit. SHARP can characterize defects with great detail. Unlike conventional microscopes, electron microscopes, and atomic-force microscopes (AFM), SHARP operates with extreme-ultraviolet (EUV) light, near 13.5-nm wavelength, the same color of light used in next-generation chip-making tools. Beyond that, SHARP provides customizable sample-illumination patterns, referred to as coherence control, that lithographers use to push the physical limits of fine-patterning.

“With these photomasks, there are a lot of open questions,” says Goldberg. “It’s a very complex optical system, with dozens of thin layers and five or more different materials all sitting on an atomically smooth surface. A lot of the research we do helps support the development of the masks—to make the mask work, to make it more efficient, to make it more inspectable, and to validate cleaning and pattern-repair work done at other facilities.”

It’s the depth of experience that’s a unique strength in the CXRO, the group that made the development of SHARP possible, along with the funding from SEMATECH. Regarding the new microscope, Goldberg asked, “How many times in your career do you get to start with a clean sheet of paper and say, ‘How would I do this if I had the chance to do everything right?’”

“I’m really proud that the work we do guides a multi-trillion dollar industry,” he says. “Our research has direct, profound effects on the decisions they make, and eventually the gadgets they produce.”

Even though the semiconductor industry is the second biggest in the U.S., the research teams for these companies can be small, says Goldberg. In EUV it can be just a handful of people, and they rely heavily on the ALS tools to inform them of where to take their products, he says. There are a few other facilities with microscopes that offer semiconductor companies some research capabilities, but none today with the capabilities of SHARP. After less than a year of operations, the data from the SHARP tool is already well represented in papers at the main industry conferences, says Goldberg.

“Making a complex system like that work is one of the most fun aspects of the job,” says Goldberg. “We are continually optimizing SHARP and discovering new capabilities; it’s an ongoing, exciting process.”

Ringleader: Peter Nico Print


Peter Nico, recently appointed chair of the UEC, brings a varied user perspective to his new post: like many environmental science users, Nico has worked at a number of different ALS beamlines, from hard x-ray tomography to x-ray diffraction to STXM to infrared. It’s the combination of these multiple capabilities that he sees as one of the greatest assets the ALS has to offer users.

Nico’s research is focused on soil chemistry, specifically looking at carbon and how it’s stored in soil. He and his fellow researchers use the ALS to understand the chemistry of carbon in soil – understanding how it changes, what types of minerals it associates with, and what makes it more or less stable.

Nico has worked in the Earth Sciences division of the Berkeley Lab since 2005 and has served on the UEC for the past two years, which has given him time to develop an understanding of ALS user needs. He sees the near future as an important and interesting time to be representing users, as the ALS grapples with fiscal challenges and continues developing plans for an upgrade project.

“It’s a really interesting time to be chair of UEC,” says Nico. “We’re doing our best to represent users during these changing times at the ALS.”

The budgetary realities that the ALS faces are inevitably going to reduce options available to users, so Nico sees the role of representing their needs during this process as particularly important. Likewise, as the ALS plans and prepare for an upgrade, Nico wants to be sure users’ needs are kept at the forefront of the discussion.

“There’s this balance between being on the cutting edge and providing workhorse capabilities,” he says. “Not every beamline needs to be on the cutting edge; there is great science that can be done with average x-ray techniques and then there’s great science that can only be done with cutting-edge x-ray techniques and I think the ALS needs to serve both of those needs.”

In addition to representing users, Nico is particularly interested in developing new connections and dynamic communication streams between the UEC and the user community. He’s looking at various ways to streamline and encourage greater communication.

Ringleader: Marc Allaire Print

Marc Allaire, the newest member of the Berkeley Center for Structural Biology (BCSB) team, joined the ALS in October as beamline scientist for Sector 5, which consists of Beamlines 5.0.1, 5.0.2, and 5.0.3. Allaire came to the ALS from Brookhaven National Laboratory, where he had been responsible for macromolecular crystallography (MX) beamlines and the biological small-angle x-ray scattering (SAXS) program.

Allaire, who hails from the beautiful province of Québec originally, has been using synchrotrons in his own biochemistry research since 1992, when he worked on the viral 3C protease at the Photon Factory in Japan. Early in his career he had to deal with the effects of radiation damage to samples and developed and proposed a new model to explain the loss of diffraction from x-ray exposure to protein crystals. Over the years he led the field in the structure determination of challenging projects, including membrane protein complexes. “I became fascinated by structural biology and MX because it’s an interesting combination of subjects,” says Allaire. “You’re applying physics and math to biology to understand its chemistry.”

One of the major draws for Allaire in joining BCSB was its strong pharmaceutical user base. Using structural biology for drug discovery is a research area that’s of particular interest, in part because of the sheer quantity of structures being solved. “It’s challenging because the range of structures to solve is getting bigger and we need to work on new ways to speed up the process,” says Allaire.

Allaire spent a lot of time at Brookhaven developing process improvements for protein crystallography, and he hopes to apply some of what he learned at the ALS. “The ALS has really pioneered robotics capabilities, which is something that we can develop further to enhance productivity,” Allaire says.

He’s taking remote user access “on the road” these days, traveling to provide training sessions for users who want to access the robotics capabilities available at BCSB. “Training and education are part of why I really like this position,” says Allaire. “I get to go beyond just providing beamtime to users and share my vast experience as a crystallographer and behind-the-scene expertise as a beamline scientist.”

“The BCSB staff, led by Corie Ralston, is extremely young and dynamic and I’m really enjoying working in that kind of environment,” says Allaire. “And let’s not forget the stunning view of the San Francisco Bay.”

Ringleader: Musa Ahmed Print

In his 19 years at the ALS, senior scientist Musa Ahmed has seen chemistry grow from a somewhat obscure synchrotron science focus area to a cornerstone, award-winning ALS program. Ahmed was recently charged with leading the chemical sciences program for both ALS chemical dynamics beamlines, 9.0.1 and 11.0.2, which befits his long-standing enthusiasm and leadership in advancing chemistry research at the ALS.

“Our hallmark for the last 20 years has been fundamental chemical physics,” says Ahmed. “We do chemistry with a very big C, focusing on building up our knowledge base.”

The two chemical dynamics beamlines cover a broad range of science, including combustion, environmental chemistry, energy science, astrochemistry and astrophysics, fundamental chemical physics, and chemical dynamics. From biofuels to soot formation, the facilities and capabilities available at Beamlines 9.0.2 and 11.0.2 give scientists at molecular-level understanding of fundamental chemical processes. Ahmed notes that both the 2011 and 2012 David Shirley Awards for Outstanding Scientific Achievement at the ALS went to chemical dynamics beamline scientists, a testament to the excellence of the program.

Ahmed’s own research focus is on understanding and mapping the physical and chemical principles that govern complicated phenomena in nature. “My goal is to gain a molecular-level understanding of alternative carbon neutral energy sources and global climate change using imaging and biological mass spectrometry, atmospheric and environmental chemistry, and dynamics of combustion processes,” he says.

Ahmed’s scope reaches beyond the two beamlines in his latest endeavor, which is to create an umbrella group focused on chemistry at the ALS in general. He hopes it will be an opportunity for collaboration among beamline scientists and users from around the ring. Recent LDRD funding will also allow Ahmed to push the chemical science beamlines beyond the static regime into probe dynamics and more laser synchrotron experiments. Beamline 9.0.2  will soon gain some extra space, as BL 9.0.1 is moving, which will give Ahmed and his group greater flexibility in the layout of their many roll-out endstations.

“I’ve stayed at the ALS all this time because I feel I’ve been able to help create a unique research environment that other synchrotrons actually try to emulate, and the ALS has allowed this to evolve,” says Ahmed. “There’s also a lot of intellectual satisfaction in working with a beamline that produces some of the brightest vacuum ultraviolet photons in the world.”

October 2013 Print

Greta Toncheva and Robert Fairchild, Laser Safety Officers

“Safety is elemental” is the latest safety tagline for the ALS, and it also pretty much sums up the mission of laser safety officers Greta Toncheva and Robert Fairchild. Toncheva and Fairchild share the responsibility of ensuring laser safety lab-wide, with Toncheva responsible for overseeing laser safety operations at the ALS. Fairchild has been at the Lab for the past 16 years. Toncheva started last year after spending the past 10 years at Duke University in radiation hazard protection. The excellent safety record that the ALS holds speaks volumes to their efforts.

In addition to lasers, Toncheva supports ionizing radiation, with a heavy focus on supporting accelerators. Fairchild supports lasers and all nonionizing radiation, which means his work is spread throughout the Lab campus and other facilities, including JCAP and JGI. Their work at the Lab and the ALS involves a unique combination of highly technical knowledge, excellent communications skills, and multi-tasking finesse.

“Being on top of the game is important,” says Toncheva. “There’s a huge volume and diversity of lasers to keep track of.”

In addition to a diversity of lasers, Toncheva and Fairchild deal with a huge array of personnel, including users new to the ALS setting up their experiments.  Educating users about our safety culture and process can be challenging, but it’s one of the job duties that both Toncheva and Fairchild enjoy. They work closely with Doug Taube, ALS chemical safety specialist, to ensure that new experiments go through the correct safety channels and laser hazard evaluations are underway where necessary.

“We are required to constantly be learning while on the job, keeping up with advancing laser technology,” says Toncheva. “It’s challenging and I like it.”

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