SSRL Headline News - Vol. 24, No. 2 October 2023

From the Director

We are pleased to announce that SSRL user operations for the FY2024 experimental run will start in mid-November. SPEAR3 is in start-up mode and radiation physics reviews for each beam line are scheduled for the week of November 6.  The user program will start the following week on most of our beam lines. For more information see our beam time schedule, operating schedule and SPEAR3 status pages.  

The downtime period from September 6 to November 6 was spent on a range of projects from long-planned in-alcove work on the optical systems required for the BL10-2 upgrade to addressing system issues in the booster and SPEAR3 that developed over the long down period and affected operations. 

With repairs done and installations in place we are looking forward to a long and successful FY2024 run – and we welcome you as our user community back to SSRL!

SSRL/LCLS Users' Meeting Wrap-Up

Our Annual SSRL/LCLS Users' Meeting was held during the week of September 24-29.  It was exciting to host the event live and in person once again.  Over 500 users, staff, speakers and exhibitors came together to celebrate this long-standing tradition.  The chairs of this year's meeting were James Evans (University of Utah), chair of the SSRL UEC, and Nick Hartley (SLAC), chair of the LCLS UEC. 

Over 25 workshops were held during the week-long event, including the Fundamentals at SSRL and LCLS workshop which provides a growing collection of introductory video presentations available on a Youtube channel. Early career speaker awards were presented to Monty Cosby (SLAC) and Priyanka Muhunthan (Stanford), with honorable mention to Avery Hanna (SLAC).During the plenary session on Wednesday, September 27, update reports by Mike Dunne, LCLS Director, Paul McIntyre, SSRL Director, and Linda Horton, Associate Director of Science for Basic Energy Sciences, Department of Energy, were followed by plenary talks by Phoebe Lam (UCSC) on "Iron and Manganese in the Ocean", Possu Huang (Stanford) on "Bioengineering for Immuotargeting and Beyond", and Alke Meents (CFEL/DESY) on “High-throughput Pharmaceutical X-ray Screening Using Serial Crystallography.”  The poster session took place Wednesday afternoon and an opportunity was taken to commemorate LCLS-II first light during the evening reception.

SSRL and LCLS award winners gave talks during Thursday morning's plenary session. Ashley James (U Saskatchewan), the 2023 Melvin P. Klein Scientific Award winner, presented her research on chronic and acute mercury exposure and Angel Garcia-Esparza (SSRL), the 2023 Spicer Young Investigator Award winner presented his research studies related to catalysts in action. 

The 2023 Lytle Award went to SSRL electrical engineer and physicist Jim Sebek for decades of dedicated synchrotron developments and problem solving. Sebek has worked on almost all of the electrical systems at the Stanford Positron Electron Accelerating Ring (SPEAR) over his 39-year career at SSRL.  His job description may be summarized as “fix whatever needs fixing,” according to SSRL senior scientist James Safranek (see more).

A total of eight poster awards were given out this year. The three Joe Wong Poster Awards were given to Jenna Vesey (Ramapo College of New Jersey), Mukul Sonker (Arizona State University), and Alfred Zong (UC Berkeley/Stanford University).  Five BioXFEL awards were given to Moritz Kretzschmar (LBNL), Ryan Lamb (University of Michigan), Wenxin Li (Yale), Lizzie Paulus (Stanford University), and Doris Mai (Caltech).  See Poster Session

SSRL-Related Science

Stanford Study Shows how Modifying Enzymes’ Electric Fields Boosts Their Speed
Excerpt from Stanford School of Humanities and Sciences News Article by Adam Hadhazy

In a new study, researchers at Stanford’s School of Humanities and Sciences and SSRL have debuted a modified enzyme that works an astonishing 50 times faster than its unmodified analog. The findings derive from pioneering research at the university regarding electric fields generated at "active sites," the pocketlike places where revved up chemical reactions occur. Based on this concept, the researchers tweaked the chemistry of the active site, boosting its electric field strength and specificity to deliver the zippy results.

"With this study, we have succeeded in making an enzyme that works better—significantly better, in fact—than a natural enzyme and in a rational, predictable way," said Steven G. Boxer, the chair of the Department of Chemistry and senior author of the study. "Our study presents a new paradigm for designing biological enzymes and should be readily applicable to designing non-biological catalysts as well."  Part of these results rest on macromolecular crystallography structures based on data from SSRL.  Read more...

Dinosaur Feathers Contain Traces of Ancient Proteins, Study Finds
Excerpt from SLAC News Article by David Krause

How similar are dinosaurs to modern birds? This question is at the heart of a new study that examined how proteins found in dinosaur feathers changed over millions of years and under extreme heat.

Previous studies suggest that dinosaur feathers contained proteins that made them less stiff than modern bird feathers. Now, researchers with University College Cork (UCC), SSRL and other institutions have discovered that dinosaur feathers originally had a very similar protein composition to those of modern birds. That result means that today’s bird feather chemistry likely originated much earlier than previously thought, perhaps as early as 125 million years ago.

Small samples of untreated and experimentally degraded feathers in addition to fossil feathers and samples of host sediment were analyzed at SSRL using synchrotron sulfur K-edge XANES spectroscopy at beam lines 6-2 and 14-3, which revealed whether key components of beta-keratin proteins were present. This helped the researchers determine if a sample’s beta-keratin proteins were still in their “native” form or if they had altered over time.  Read more...

It's so Metal: Scientists Confirm Nickel Plays a Key Role in an Ancient Chemical Reaction
Excerpt from SLAC News Article by Kimberly Hickok

Carbon dioxide is the most abundant greenhouse gas causing climate change but has existed on Earth long before humans started releasing it into the atmosphere at unprecedented levels. As such, some of the planet’s earliest organisms evolved to harness and make use of this gas that is otherwise harmful to humans and the planet.

One of those processes, called the Wood-Ljungdahl pathway, only occurs in the absence of oxygen and is thought to be the most efficient carbon-fixation pathway in nature. But exactly how the pathway proceeds from one step to the next has remained unclear.

Now, scientists at SSRL, University of Michigan, Northwestern University, and Carnegie Mellon University have discovered the previously unknown inner workings of the Wood-Ljungdahl pathway. Their findings not only shed light on one of the oldest chemical reactions on Earth, but may also lead to improved carbon capture techniques for climate change mitigation efforts.  Read more...

Scientists Unravel the Chemical Mechanism behind Silica-Coated Nanodiamonds
Excerpt from SLAC News Article by Elise Overgaard

Researchers from San Jose State University report in the journal ACS Nanoscience Au that alcohol chemical groups on a diamond’s surface are responsible for usefully uniform silica shells, a result that could help them to create better silica-coated nanodiamonds – tiny tools with applications from biolabeling of cancer cells to quantum sensing. 

The team unraveled the bonding mechanism thanks to powerful X-rays generated by SSRL. SSRL’s transition edge sensor – a super-sensitive thermometer that collects temperature changes and converts them to X-ray energies – revealed which chemical groups were present on the nanodiamonds’ surfaces. Using a second technique – X-ray absorption spectroscopy (XAS) – the team generated mobile electrons on the nanodiamond surface, then caught them as they traveled through the silica shell and escaped. The thicker the coating, the fewer electrons made it to the surface. The signals acted like a tiny measuring tape, showing the thickness of the silica coating on the nanometer scale.  Read more...

More Awards and Recognition

DOE Awards a SLAC-led Research Team $12 Million to Help Improve Response Time to Dangerous Pathogens
Excerpt from SLAC News Article by David Krause

Researchers at SLAC and other institutions have been awarded $12 million in funding to help accelerate society’s response to emerging pathogens by improving X-ray science technology and processes.

The award is part of the DOE’s Biopreparedness Research Virtual Environment (BRaVE) initiative, which will support national preparedness for future pathogens and diseases. In total, the DOE announced about $112 million in funding for 10 research projects.

The SLAC team will be led by Aina Cohen, division head of Structural Molecular Biology at SSRL. Partner institutions include the DOE's Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, the La Jolla Institute for Immunology, and UC Merced, among others. Read more...

Johanna Nelson Weker Honored by DOE Early Career Award
Excerpt from SLAC News article by Angela Anderson and David Krause

Johanna Nelson Weker will receive an Early Career Research Program grant for her work on making clearer X-ray images of battery cells and other samples. She is among 93 early career scientists in the U.S. to receive the prestigious five-year funding grant this year. In total, the DOE issued a combined $135 million for research covering a wide range of topics, from artificial intelligence to astrophysics to fusion energy.  Read more...

Nelson Weker has also received an Advanced Materials and Manufacturing Technologies Office (AMMTO) battery manufacturing award this year.

SSRL Staff Scientists Receive Awards under DOE Funding for FAIR and RENEW Initiatives

Aina Cohen and Kevin Stone have been recognized with funding awards for their research projects in an announcement from the Department of Energy (DOE) to build research capacity at historically underrepresented institutions through its FAIR program.

Kristin Boye and Vincent Noël have received a DOE Office of Science Biological and Environmental Research RENEW award for their research on "From Forests to Floodplains to Functioning Watersheds: Catalyzing Collaborative Research and Inclusive Training Partnerships between Western Colorado University and DOE’s National Laboratory System."

Will Chueh Receives the 2023 Shirley Award

Will Chueh, an associate professor of materials science and engineering at Stanford University, is the 2023 winner of the David A. Shirley award for Outstanding Scientific Achievement at the Advanced Light Source (ALS). His selection, by members of the ALS Users’ Executive Committee (UEC), recognizes Chueh’s deep contributions to operando soft x-ray spectromicroscopy for imaging electrochemical redox phenomena. He is also an active SSRL user and currently serves as the Director of the SLAC-Stanford Battery Center.  Read more...

Junko Yano Appointed Director of Berkeley Lab’s Molecular Biophysics and Integrated Bioimaging Division

Junko Yano, known for her research in natural and artificial photosynthetic systems and a long-term x-ray spectroscopy user of SSRL and LCLS, has been appointed the Director of the Molecular Biophysics and Bioimaging Division at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory after a national search. Read more...


2024 Panofsky Fellowship at the SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory (SLAC) Call for Applications – Deadline for Submission is December 15, 2023

The Panofsky Fellowship is intended to recognize exceptional and promising young scientists who would most benefit from the unique opportunity to conduct their research at SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory. It honors SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory’s founder and first Director, Wolfgang K. H. Panofsky. The fellowship is for early-career researchers (experiment or theory) in a diverse range of fields related to the SLAC scientific mission:

• Accelerator science & advanced accelerator research • Applied Energy research • Biosciences • Chemical sciences • Computer Science • Elementary particle physics (experiment and theory) • High energy density matter • Materials and condensed matter science • Particle astrophysics and cosmology • Quantum Information Science • X-ray science, including ultrafast science and advanced X-ray instrumentation, at LCLS and SSRL

The Fellowship is awarded without regard to a candidate's particular specialty within our programs. While an emphasis will be placed on the potential for innovation and growth of new opportunities as their career develops, the candidate's research plan should encompass one or more areas within the science program at SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory and describe how the proposed research will benefit from the unique opportunity to conduct research at SLAC, while also demonstrating alignment with the SLAC mission and values.  Read more to apply

Postdoctoral Opportunities at SSRL

SSRL scientists are looking for postdoctoral candidates for the positions listed at Careers at SLAC.

User Research Administration

Beam Time Requests

  • Xray / VUV - November 1, 2023  (March – May 2024 cycle)
  • Macromolecular Crystallography - January 19, 2024  (March – May 2024 cycle)

Proposal Deadlines

  • Xray / VUV - November 1, 2023 (for beam time eligibility beginning in June 2024)
  • Macromolecular Crystallography - December 1, 2023 (for beam time eligibility beginning in March 2024)
  • CryoEM biology-related proposals for the S2C2 program are due on the first day of each month and are being reviewed on a monthly basis..

Submit SSRL and CryoEM time requests and proposals through the User Portal.

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