Users' Meeting and Workshops Draw Hundreds to SLAC

October 15, 2012

Three hundred participants learned about the latest scientific capabilities at two of SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory's premier experimental facilities for visiting researchers – the Stanford Synchrotron Radiation Lightsource and Linac Coherent Light Source – during the 2012 LCLS/SSRL Users' Meeting and Workshops.

One highlight of the Oct. 3-6 event was the presentation of the 2012 Farrel W. Lytle Award, given to SSRL Staff Scientist Clyde Smith in recognition of his “outstanding contributions to the Stanford Synchrotron Radiation Lightsource community.”

The meeting also included talks about the latest scientific trends and challenges and calls for more public outreach to spread the word about light source science.

Harriet Kung, associate director of science for the Department of Energy's Basic Energy Sciences division, described the appropriations process for scientific funding, and Michael Lubell, director of public affairs for the American Physical Society, cited surveys that found about 7 in 10 Americans support government spending on science, though support has slowly eroded.

"We have to engage the public – we have not done a good job," Lubell said, noting that it's particularly important for scientists to make the case for how science directly impacts peoples' lives.

He added, "This is serious, folks. If the public doesn't support us, the government isn't going to do it. We need that public support. We're entering an era of pretty difficult decision-making." He noted the specter of budget "sequestration" – potential automatic cuts in a wide range of federal programs and services if no budget compromise is reached.

SLAC Chief Scientist Z-X Shen promoted research opportunities in the "science-rich range" of terahertz energy – a band of the electromagnetic spectrum between far-infrared and microwave wavelengths. Accelerators at SLAC could produce a unique, high-field source of terahertz radiation that could be coupled with X-ray experiments at LCLS, for example, he said, or tapped for SSRL experiments.

Helmut Dosch, director of DESY, a national lab in Germany that operates the FLASH free-electron laser, said in a keynote talk that LCLS and other facilities may be useful tools for approaching "Holy Grails" in a range of scientific fields. For instance, he said, "Can we understand, in principle, how material that is unordered and very dynamic transforms into a very ordered structure?"  Studying materials failure at the microscopic level could improve materials performance at the macro level, he added.

George Crabtree, associate director of the materials science division at Argonne National Laboratory, advocated broader scientific collaborations for pursuing challenging questions in emerging fields such as "mesoscale science," in which the same sort of molecular self-assembly found in living cells is used to build exotic new materials from scratch.

This new undertaking, Crabtree said, is a "constructionist vision and opportunity" that requires researchers in diverse scientific specialties to talk to each other.

While some of the awards given out at the meeting had been announced in advance, the Lytle Award was a closely kept secret and a surprise for recipient Clyde Smith, an SSRL staff scientist. Given annually since 1998, the award recognizes technical or scientific achievements in synchrotron radiation-based science, as well as efforts to promote collaboration and efficiency at SSRL.

The citation read, “This award recognizes Clyde’s significant contributions to the education of a new generation of scientists, to the preparation of the biotechnology and chemical industry workforce, to the professional development of faculty from predominantly undergraduate institutions, and to the remote enabling of instrumentation that further advances research and actively engages undergraduates and master’s-level students.”

Smith said, “I look at the list of people who’ve won it and I can’t believe I’m in their company.”

Additionally, Tim Miller of Stanford University received the Melvin P. Klein Scientific Development Award during the event, and James Cryan of Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory received the William E. and Diane M. Spicer Young Investigator Award.

Six prizes were awarded for outstanding poster presentations: Shuolong Yang and Yelena Gorlin in materials science, Karen Colbert in biology/life science, Michael Massey in environmental science, Raymond Sierra in instrumentation/development and Wenkai Zhang in ultrafast science.  

Sarah Hayes, a users' meeting organizer from the University of Alaska, Fairbanks, said she enjoyed all of the sessions she attended. Hayes, who served as vice chairperson of the SSRL Users Executive committee, noted that organizers made some changes to the format of breakout sessions that "worked out really well," with one invited expert for each session.

She also said that four young scientists were invited to present early career talks to attendees, and "the quality of their talks has been phenomenal."

Cathy Knotts, head of SLAC’s SSRL/LCLS Users Administration, also said the new format has been a hit. “The users are loving the program,” she said.