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    • 2018-05-07 09:30:10
    • Article ID: 694112

    Introducing Graduate Students Across the Globe to Photon Science

    A campus-based lecture series on advanced material characterization techniques used at Brookhaven Lab goes online to reach more students

    • Credit: Wits University

      A group of students from Wits University in South Africa remotely attends a lecture given by a scientist at Brookhaven Lab. The lecture is part of an online program designed to introduce graduate students to advanced x-ray-based techniques for materials characterization using a synchrotron light source.

    • Credit: University of Puerto Rico

      Students from the University of Puerto Rico are among the more than 60 students who are currently taking the online synchrotron light source course.

    • Credit: Brookhaven National Laboratory

      Brookhaven Lab physicist Eric Dooryhee explains how he uses x-ray powder diffraction at the National Synchrotron Light Source II to determine the structure of materials. In addition to the in-classroom students pictured above, more than 60 students from Wits University in South Africa, the University of Puerto Rico, the University of the West Indies, Howard University, and Hampton University remotely dialed in for the lecture through videoconferencing.

    • Credit: University of the West Indies, St. Augustine Campus

      Students from the University of the West Indies, St. Augustine Campus learn about a test to estimate the reduction in intensity of an x-ray beam as it passes through matter.

    When an electron in motion changes direction in a magnetic field, it emits energy in the form of light. Stadium-sized ring-shaped machines called synchrotrons—such as the National Synchrotron Light Source II (NSLS-II), a U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) Office of Science User Facility at Brookhaven National Laboratory—take advantage of this phenomenon to generate many beams of bright x-ray light. At several points around the ring, this light is directed toward different experimental stations, known as beamlines, and then to scientific research instruments such as microscopes. Scientists use the light at these beamlines to study the structure and chemical composition of a wide range of materials, from batteries and other energy storage devices to soil, biological molecules, and metals. At NSLS-II, 26 beamlines are currently in operation or commissioning, and three more are under construction. When fully built, the facility will host around 60 beamlines—meaning 60 experiments can be conducted at once.  

    Now, Brookhaven Lab is applying such a simultaneous approach in a different capacity: to broaden the awareness of photon science in the scientific community and help train the next generation of synchrotron light source users and scientists. The Lab recently partnered with several universities in different areas of the world to start an online lecture series on various techniques scientists use at NSLS-II to characterize the structure, chemical composition, and physical properties of materials.

    The lectures were originally taught as part of a three-credit graduate course at three universities, starting with Columbia in fall 2015 and expanding to Yale and Stony Brook in spring 2016. Brookhaven has continued to offer the course in subsequent semesters. Each week, a scientist from NSLS-II or the Center for Functional Nanomaterials (CFN)—another DOE Office of Science User Facility at Brookhaven—who conducts research at the NSLS-II beamlines travels to these campuses to present the material during a two-and-a-half-hour lecture. The scientists who volunteer to teach the course are subject-matter experts for the particular beamline techniques.  

    “The purpose of the course is to make graduate students, ideally those in their first year, aware of the advanced synchrotron radiation and electron techniques and capabilities at NSLS-II and CFN so that they can come here as users to effectively do their research,” said Qun Shen, deputy director for science at NSLS-II and the Brookhaven lead for the course. “Reaching out to these students early in their careers will help us expand our user base and support workforce development.”

    Such on-campus courses have been attractive to local universities and students, some of whom have already become users at NSLS-II and CFN. But Shen and John Hill, deputy associate laboratory director for Energy and Photon Sciences at Brookhaven Lab and director of NSLS-II, realized that a whole lot more students could be reached if the course was offered online.

    Extending the reach of synchrotron science

    Shen formed a partnership with Noel Blackburn, manager of university relations and DOE programs within the Office of Educational Programs at Brookhaven Lab, to get the process started. Blackburn contacted universities in the Interdisciplinary Consortium for Research and Educational Access in Science and Engineering (INCREASE), an organization whose mission is to promote research and education at minority-serving institutions, especially through increasing their use of national user facilities. For the pilot online course, Blackburn brought five universities on board: the University of the Witwatersrand (Wits University) in South Africa, the University of the West Indies and the University of Puerto Rico in the Caribbean, and Howard University and Hampton University in the continental United States.

    “In the future, we plan to offer the online program to more universities, as our goal is to reach as many students and faculty as possible,” said Blackburn. “And as more beamlines come online, we plan to expand the number of techniques covered in the lectures. Our intent is to expose the students to the many capabilities at NSLS-II, giving them the tools to enhance their research capacity at their home institutions. Once they become familiar with the experimental techniques, the students could contribute to writing the competitive proposals that are required to gain access to the facilities at NSLS-II.”

    The course—called Advanced Synchrotron and Electron Techniques and Applications— launched in mid-January, with Shen presenting the first of 12 lectures to 62 students from the remotely participating universities and eight staff members and spring 2018 interns on site at Brookhaven. Shen introduced the students to x-ray interactions with matter, laying the foundation for them to understand the techniques discussed in the rest of the lectures, which ran every week until the end of April.

    In the following weeks, NSLS-II and CFN scientists presented lectures on different techniques—including x-ray photoelectron spectroscopy, x-ray scattering, and x-ray imaging and microscopy—and their applications. A complete list of the lectures and the corresponding slides are available on Brookhaven’s website.

    “As a lecturer, I find it very enjoyable to interact with the students,” said Shen. “They bring fresh perspectives and questions to scientific problems that we have been thinking about for many years.”

    “Some gauge of success in transmitting the ideas is that a few pretty perceptive questions came in from the students during the lecture,” added biophysicist Robert Sweet, deputy director of the Life Science and Biomedical Technology Research Center at NSLS-II. Sweet presented the second lecture, which focused on x-ray diffraction and crystallography.

    The online course is set up to function like it would in a traditional classroom setting. Lecturers use videoconferencing software to give their presentations, and a point of contact at each university uses a chat room to type questions from students. To ensure that all of the students hear each other’s questions, Salvador Gonzalez, an educational program representative in Brookhaven’s Office of Educational Programs, reads the questions aloud. Homework is assigned after each lecture, and students take two exams—a midterm and a final. Teaching assistants from each of the participating universities are responsible for grading the students on the basis of their institution’s grading system.

    Making an impact

    So far, the online course has been very well received.

    “This course is the most difficult but one of the best courses that I have taken,” said Jermaine Smith, a graduate student in materials chemistry at the University of the West Indies, Mona Campus. “It is thought-provoking, stretching the bounds of my imagination in ways that I have not been stimulated before. The material covered each week is opening my eyes to a relatively new type of science that is cutting edge and dynamic. I am grateful to Brookhaven for providing young scientists like me with the opportunity to get exposed to techniques that may lead to new discoveries and breakthroughs in critical scientific areas.”

    “The course curriculum delivered by the respective experts has provided me with knowledge of the full potential of synchrotron-radiation-based techniques and increased my capacity as a doctoral candidate in materials chemistry,” said Zeyar Min of the University of the West Indies, Mona Campus. “Most significantly, this course has equipped me with the necessary foundation in x-ray techniques to be a competent user of equipment at NSLS-II and to write competitive proposals for beam time.”

    In addition to gaining a generalized knowledge of photon science and the corresponding experimental techniques, students are realizing how these techniques can benefit their own research projects.

    “The course is quite pertinent to my research on NASICON-type [sodium super-ion conductor] bimetal phosphates for applications as solid-state electrolytes in lithium-ion batteries,” said Wits University graduate student Gugulethu Nkala. “These materials could be a promising alternative to liquid electrolytes, which are not environmentally friendly, but one of the drawbacks is that their crystal form, or structure, changes with temperature. Each “polymorph” has its own electrical properties, giving rise to variable voltage outputs. I am trying to find ways to mitigate this temperature-dependent polymorphism, with the goal of improving the storage capacity of batteries. The x-ray synchrotron course has shed light on techniques that can be used to study these materials. For example, x-ray powder diffraction allows me to see how the crystal lattice changes as a battery is in use—information that is key to understanding the degradation mechanisms through which the battery becomes spent.” 

    Professors at the participating universities have also seen the positive impact of the course.

    “I have been sitting in on the course, and am impressed by the content of the lectures and by the commitment of the schools, with their students enrolled in complementary courses,” said Eric Sheppard, chair of INCREASE and a research associate professor in engineering at Hampton University. “I am also learning myself! I look forward to discussions with NSLS-II leadership about future offerings of the online lecture course that may include additional INCREASE schools.”

    According to Shen, the course will ultimately improve the productivity of the NSLS-II beamlines: “If the students and faculty members understand the physics behind their experiments and the important parameters they need to measure when they come to NSLS-II, they can become more efficient and effective users. A proficient user community will result in better science data that can then be published and shared with the rest of the scientific community.”

    Brookhaven National Laboratory is supported by the Office of Science of the U.S. Department of Energy. The Office of Science is the single largest supporter of basic research in the physical sciences in the United States, and is working to address some of the most pressing challenges of our time. For more information, please visit

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    Science Up-Close: Developing a Cookbook for Efficient Fusion Energy

    To develop a future fusion reactor, scientists need to understand how and why plasma in fusion experiments moves into a "high-confinement mode" where particles and heat can't escape. Scientists at the Department of Energy's Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory simulated the transition into that mode starting from the most basic physics principles.

    Peering into the Mist: How Water Vapor Changes Metal at the Atomic Level

    New insights into molecular-level processes could help prevent corrosion and improve catalytic conversion.

    Neutron science publications reach new highs at ORNL's flagship facilities

    The High Flux Isotope Reactor and the Spallation Neutron Source at the Department of Energy's Oak Ridge National Laboratory have reached new levels of increased science productivity. In 2018, a record high of more than 500 scientific instrument publications were produced between HFIR and SNS--based on neutron beamline experiments conducted by more than 1,200 US and international researchers who used the world-leading facilities.

    Fiery sighting: A new physics of eruptions that damage fusion experiments

    Feature describes first direct sighting of a trigger for bursts of heat that can disrupt fusion reactions.

    Microbial Types May Prove Key to Gas Releases from Thawing Permafrost

    Scientists discover key types of microbes that degrade organic matter and release carbon dioxide and methane into the atmosphere.

    An effect that Einstein helped discover 100 years ago offers new insight into a puzzling magnetic phenomenon

    Experiments at the Department of Energy's SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory have seen for the first time what happens when magnetic materials are demagnetized at ultrafast speeds of millionths of a billionth of a second: The atoms on the surface of the material move, much like the iron bar did. The work, done at SLAC's Linac Coherent Light Source (LCLS) X-ray laser, was published in Nature earlier this month.

    Found: A precise method for determining how waves and particles affect fusion reactions

    Like surfers catching ocean waves, particles within plasma can ride waves oscillating through the plasma during fusion energy experiments. Now a team of physicists led by PPPL has devised a faster method to determine how much this interaction contributes to efficiency loss in tokamaks.

    Discovery adapts natural membrane to make hydrogen fuel from water

    In a recent study from the U.S. Department of Energy's (DOE) Argonne National Laboratory, scientists have combined two membrane-bound protein complexes to perform a complete conversion of water molecules to hydrogen and oxygen.

    How Plants Regulate Sugar Deposition in Cell Walls

    Identified genes involved in plant cell wall polysaccharide production and restructuring could aid in engineering bioenergy crops.

    Scientists Identify Gene Cluster in Budding Yeasts with Major Implications for Renewable Energy

    How yeast partition carbon into a metabolite may offer insights into boosting production for biofuels.

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    Top 10 Discoveries of 2018

    Every year, the U.S. Department of Energy's (DOE) Brookhaven National Laboratory compiles a list of the biggest advances made by the Lab's staff scientists, engineers, and visiting researchers. From uncovering mysteries of the universe to building better batteries, here, in no particular order, are our picks for the top 10 discoveries of 2018.

    U.S. Department of Energy Announces $33 Million for Small Business Research and Development Grants

    The U.S. Department of Energy announced it will award 189 grants totaling $33 million to 149 small businesses in 32 states.

    DOE to Provide $16 Million for New Research into Atmospheric and Terrestrial Processes

    The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) announced a plan to provide $16 million for new observational research aimed at improving the accuracy of today's climate and earth system models.

    Machine learning award powers Argonne leadership in engine design

    When attempting to design engines to be more fuel-efficient and emissions-free, automotive manufacturers have to take into account all the complexity inherent in the combustion process.

    ORNL partners with industry to address multiple nuclear technology challenges

    The Department of Energy's Oak Ridge National Laboratory is collaborating with industry on six new projects focused on advancing commercial nuclear energy technologies that offer potential improvements to current nuclear reactors and move new reactor designs closer to deployment.

    Lithium earns honors for three physicists working to bring the energy that powers the sun to Earth

    Feature describes research of three PPPL physicists who have won the laboratory's 2018 outstanding research awards

    DOE approves technical plan and cost estimate to upgrade Argonne facility; Project will create X-rays that illuminate the atomic scale, in 3D

    The U.S. Department of Energy has approved the technical scope, cost estimate and plan of work for an upgrade of the Advanced Photon Source, a major storage-ring X-ray source at Argonne.

    Costas Soukoulis elected to National Academy of Inventors

    Costas Soukoulis, Ames Laboratory senior scientist and Iowa State University Frances M. Craig Endowed Chair and Distinguished Professor, has been named as a 2018 National Academy of Inventors (NAI) Fellow.

    Biophysicist F. William Studier Elected Fellow of the National Academy of Inventors

    F. William Studier, a Senior Biophysicist Emeritus at the U.S. Department of Energy's Brookhaven National Laboratory and Adjunct Professor of Biochemistry at Stony Brook University, has been elected as a Fellow of the National Academy of Inventors (NAI). He is among 148 renowned academic inventors being recognized by NAI for 2018.

    Blast to the future

    A grant from DOE's Technology Commercialization Fund will help researchers at Argonne and industry partners seek improvements to U.S. manufacturing by making discovery and design of new materials more efficient.

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    Rapid Lake Draining on Ice Sheets Changes How Water Moves in Unexpected Ways

    Widespread fracturing during lake drainage triggers vertical shafts to form that affect the Greenland Ice Sheet.

    New Historical Emissions Trends Estimated with the Community Emissions Data System

    The data system will allow for more detailed, consistent, and up-to-date global emissions trends that will aid in understanding aerosol effects.

    Peering into the Mist: How Water Vapor Changes Metal at the Atomic Level

    New insights into molecular-level processes could help prevent corrosion and improve catalytic conversion.

    Microbial Types May Prove Key to Gas Releases from Thawing Permafrost

    Scientists discover key types of microbes that degrade organic matter and release carbon dioxide and methane into the atmosphere.

    New Method Knocks Out Yeast Genes with Single-Point Precision

    Researchers can precisely study how different genes affect key properties in a yeast used industrially to produce fuel and chemicals.

    How Plants Regulate Sugar Deposition in Cell Walls

    Identified genes involved in plant cell wall polysaccharide production and restructuring could aid in engineering bioenergy crops.

    Scientists Identify Gene Cluster in Budding Yeasts with Major Implications for Renewable Energy

    How yeast partition carbon into a metabolite may offer insights into boosting production for biofuels.

    More Designer Peptides, More Possibilities

    A combined experimental and modeling approach contributes to understanding small proteins with potential use in industrial, therapeutic applications.

    Deep Learning for Electron Microscopy

    Artificial intelligence on Summit to discover atomic-scale structures.

    Clarifying Rates of Methylmercury Production

    New model provides more accurate estimates of how fast microbes produce a mercury-based neurotoxin.


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