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First-place teams advance to the National Science Bowl finals in April

Students from Hunter College Middle School and Ward Melville High School are headed to the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) National Science Bowl this spring after earning the top spots in the Long Island Regional Middle School and High School Science Bowl competitions hosted by DOE’s Brookhaven National Laboratory on Feb. 1 and 2.

These are repeat wins for both schools, who were named regional champions in the fast-paced question-and-answer academic tournament last year. The Science Bowl tests students’ split-second knowledge on a range of science disciplines including chemistry, biology, physics, mathematics, astronomy, and general, earth, and computer science.

“We love hosting the Science Bowl competitions and welcoming the top STEM students from our region,” said Amanda Horn, a Brookhaven Lab educator who coordinated the events. “We are always impressed by the level of competition for both competitions. It was especially exciting to welcome many additional students and new teams this year for our biggest Science Bowl ever. We couldn’t do it without our amazing volunteers!”

The first-place teams win an all-expense paid trip to the National Science Bowl where they will face teams from around the country, plus a trophy and banner to display at their schools. All prizes and giveaways are courtesy of the event’s sponsors, Brookhaven Science Associates and Teachers Federal Credit Union.

The National Science Bowl finals are scheduled to take place April 25-29 near Washington, D.C.

“I really do love this event and each and every year I’m just overwhelmed and amazed at how much you guys know,” Brookhaven Lab Director JoAnne Hewett, who addressed high schoolers before their competition kicked off on Feb. 2.

While this marked Hewett’s first Science Bowl at Brookhaven since joining the Lab last summer, she noted that she previously participated in DOE’s SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory’s regional competition each year since it began in 2010 and proudly donned last year’s t-shirt to prove it.

“It’s just wonderful the education that you’re getting, and more importantly, the interest in learning, because that’s the thing that will carry you though life, is if you never give up that interest in learning and being brave and going out and answering questions that you may or may not know the answer to,” Hewett said. Horn presented Hewett with Brookhaven’s 2024 Science Bowl t-shirt to welcome her to the Lab’s Science Bowl team.

Middle School Regional Champions: Hunter College Middle School (from left to right) Benjamin Muchnik, Andres Fischer, Camille Pimentel, Aria Kana, Hudson Reich. (David Rahner/Brookhaven National Laboratory)
Middle School Top Four

The Middle School competition hosted teams from Long Island and New York City, with 100 students representing 20 teams and 16 middle schools.

Hunter College Middle School earned the regional champion title for the third year in a year, with zero losses throughout the competition day.

“Last year, going to nationals really motivated me to keep going and study for regionals,” Hunter College co-captain Andres Fischer said, “I’m really glad that we got to make here and do well. I’m proud of the rest of us who weren’t here last year—I think we make a really good team.”

Lots of preparation, plus a supportive team, helped secure the win, according to co-captain Camille Pimentel.

“We studied a lot, so we read lots of books and stuff—it was a lot of work,” Pimentel said. “We also meet weekly to practice.”

The team will again study hard for nationals, where they will have another chance to compete and enjoy its famous free soft-serve ice cream machine.

1st Place: Hunter College Middle School — Andres Fischer, Camille Pimentel, Hudson Reich, Aria Kana. Benjamin Muchnik

2nd Place: Great Neck South Middle School — Aaron Son, Eric Zhuang, Andy Zhuang, Jayden Jiang, Michael Sun

3rd Place: Paul J. Gelinas Junior High School — Valentina Trajkovic, Aydin Erdonmez, Tony Xu, Terrence Wang, Victoria Chen

4th Place: NYC Lab Middle School for Collaborative Studies – Ameena Elshaar, Ryan Casey, Qi Lin Wu, Nikki Perlman, Ayden Jiang

Middle School Regional Champions: Hunter College Middle School (from left to right) Benjamin Muchnik, Andres Fischer, Camille Pimentel, Aria Kana, Hudson Reich. (David Rahner/Brookhaven National Laboratory)
High School Top Four

This year’s high school Science Bowl shaped up to be the largest ever hosted by Brookhaven Lab with 30 teams and 150 students.

“We were fortunate to kind of have the stars aligned with our team composition,” Ward Melville captain Michael Melikyan said. The team had members who specialized in two science subjects at once,

“I’d like to thank our coach, he’s been absolutely amazing, and this has been a phenomenal thing,” Melikyan added. “We’re grateful to Brookhaven Lab for hosting this.”

1st Place: Ward Melville High School — Rithik Sogal, Harry Gao, Anna Xing, Michael Melikyan, Sean Skinner

2nd Place: Great Neck South High School — Brandon Kim, Erin Wong, Laura Zhang, Luke Huang, Allen Vee

3rd Place: Half Hollow Hills High School East — Aidan Joseph, Stasya Selizhuk, Rishi Aravind, Jack Goldfried, Alexandra Lerner

4th Place: William Floyd High School — Alice Chen, Anjel Suarez, Jason Alexopoulos, Joshua Schultzer, Zariel Macchia

STEM Challenge, Expo, and Tour

The science fun didn’t stop throughout the competition days—with a STEM Expo tour, and science challenge organized by the Lab’s Office of Educational Programs. 

Staff and students from across Brookhaven Lab’s departments offered hands-on science demonstrations that included a look at how particles are kept in a circular path in accelerators, a cloud chamber that revealed charged particle tracks, an overview of medical isotopes, machine learning techniques, and more.

Teams that did not advance to the double elimination rounds enjoyed a tour of the National Synchrotron Light Source II—a DOE Office of Science user facility that creates light beams 10 billion times bright than the sun, directing them towards specialized beamlines that reveal material structures and chemical changes.

Students also joined a timed STEM Challenge in which they solved tricky science and math puzzles to break several locks on boxes filled with treats.

Middle School STEM Challenge winners: 1st place: Stimson Middle School Team 1, 2nd place: Sayville Middle School, 3rd place: R.C. Murphy Junior High School Team 1

High School STEM Challenge winners: 1st place: Jericho Senior High School, 2nd place: Plainedge Senior High School, 3rd place: Bellport High School

An Introduction to a National Lab

The regional Science Bowl is one of many ways Brookhaven Lab introduces students to its science goals, researchers, facilities, and learning opportunities each year—in hopes that they will return to the national lab system one day as the next generation of scientists.

“We really need an energetic new generation workforce to come to Brookhaven and bring us all the talent that you have and all your inquisitiveness—that’s what we need in science, inquisitiveness,” Hewett said.

At the start of both competition days Gary Olson, deputy site manager at the Brookhaven Site Office, shared an overview of Brookhaven’s world-class science tools, discoveries, and research.

“This could be the start of a STEM journey for you,” Olson said, adding that there are also training opportunities available for teachers.

On Feb. 1, middle schoolers heard from Brookhaven Lab physicist Mary Bishai about her own STEM journey. Bishai is a co-spokesperson for the Deep Underground Neutrino Experiment (DUNE)—an experimented based at DOE’s Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory that will send intense beams of neutrinos through 800 miles of Earth’s crust to capture signals that may reveal neutrino characteristics. Bishai shared her career path in particle physics and the Lab’s work, past and present, to better understand neutrinos—ghostlike particles that travel at nearly the speed of light.

Students also met Lab science and support staff from across departments, retirees, and former Science Bowl competitors who served as volunteers—many of whom return year after year. Approximately 90 volunteers joined the two competition days in roles as judges, scorekeepers, and support.

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, visit science.energy.gov.

Evan Musterman with lead SRX beamline scientist Andrew Kiss at the SRX beamline. Photo by Kevin Coughlin/Brookhaven National Laboratory

By Daniel Dunaief

When he took over to lead the sub micron resolution X-ray spectroscopy, or SRX, beamline at Brookhaven National Laboratory on January 1, 2020, Andrew Kiss expected to balance between improving the machinery and helping visiting scientists use it. The pandemic, however, altered that balance.

BNL received components for the beamline in December 2019, when the researchers were going to try to take a fraction of the available x-ray time to install and commission it, all while still running experiments. The pandemic, however, kept scientists from visiting the site. That meant Kiss and his colleagues could dedicate more time to technical enhancements.

“Since the pandemic shut down the user program, this gave us an opportunity to focus all of our time on the new equipment” that visiting researchers could tap into when they returned, he explained in an email.

The beamline, which postdoctoral researcher Evan Musterman is enhancing further with diffraction techniques to reveal information about strain (see related story here), is in high demand. During the current cycle, 324 researchers applied for beamline time, while 99 time slots were allocated.

Scientists have a range of ways of discovering which beamline might best suit their research needs, including word of mouth. Kiss has had conversations with researchers who describe how they read something in a research paper and have similar goals.

Scientists “usually have a good idea of what instrument/ facility to use and why it is good for their research so informal conversations at conferences and seminars can be very useful,” Kiss said.

Most of Kiss’s time is dedicated to ensuring the stability and reliability of the beamline, as well as extending its capabilities to scan larger regions with less overhead, he explained.

“All of this is to help the researchers that come to the beamline, but my hope is that with this baseline of reliable and fast data acquisition, I can focus more on scientific topics such as metal additive manufacturing,” Kiss wrote.

With the SRX, Kiss can explore applied questions related to corrosion effects or how a material is modified by exposure to different gases, liquids or other parameters.

Working at the beamline has given Kiss an unusual perspective outside the lab. A few years ago, he received a notification about a recall on baby food he purchased that could have elevated levels of something unhealthy in it. His second thought, after making sure he didn’t give any to the child, was to wonder how much was in the food and if he could measure it. Before he could bring it to the lab, the contaminated food was already taken away with the garbage.

Kiss enjoys his work and suggested that the field attracts a “certain type of person and, once you are there, it is tough to pull yourself away from the instrument and the community of researchers around you,” he explained.

In addition to making basic discoveries in fields such as materials science, Earth science and biological sciences, the SRX beamline has played an important role in studies that have affected public policy.

Indeed, a study in 2022 showed that veterans who worked in Iraq and Afghanistan near burn pits had oxidized particles of iron and titanium in their lungs. “This is not direct evidence it came from a burn pit, but these were not seen in healthy lungs,” Kiss said. Only a few places in the world had the kind of machinery with a bright enough source and high enough resolution to discover these particles.

Kiss and collaborators from other laboratories, universities and medical institutions appreciated the opportunity to have a “positive impact on these soldiers’ lives by providing the measurements to get them help,” he said. The discovery of these elements in the lungs of veterans who lived near burn pits and suffered health consequences, which the study at SRX and other facilities helped demonstrate, led to the Pact Act, which President Joe Biden signed into law in 2022 and which provides $280 billion in federal funding for the health effects veterans suffer after exposure to such toxins.

SRX has high spatial resolution and is highly sensitive to trace concentrations for elemental mapping and chemical composition. SRX is an x-ray fluorescence microscope with “high spatial resolution and highly sensitive to trace concentrations for elemental mapping and chemical composition,” Kiss said. “If that can be used to help people’s lives, that is a wonderful thing.”

Evan Musterman at the SRX beamline. Photo by Kevin Coughlin/Brookhaven National Laboratory

By Daniel Dunaief

It’s everywhere, from holding the water we drink to providing a cover over the Norman Rockwell painting of “The Three Umpires” to offering a translucent barrier between our frigid winter backyards and the warm living room.

While we can hold it in our hands and readily see through it, glass and its manufacture, which has been ongoing for about 4,000 years, has numerous mysteries.

Indeed, given enough temperature and time, glass crystallizes. Controlling the process has been used to increase strength and chemical durability, tailor thermal properties and more over the last several decades.

Evan Musterman, who studied the way lasers served as a localized heat source to induce single crystal formation in glass when he was a graduate student at Bethlehem, Pennsylvania-based Lehigh University, joined Brookhaven National Laboratory in September as a postdoctoral researcher.

Musterman, who received funding for nine months at the end of his PhD program through the Department of Energy’s Office of Science Graduate Student Research program when he was at Lehigh that enabled him to work at BNL, is adding scanning x-ray diffraction mapping as a more user-ready technique at the Submicron Resolution X-ray Spectroscopy beamline (or SRX) that he used as a graduate student. 

The beamline looks at x-ray fluorescence measurements, which provide information about the elemental distribution and chemical information, such as oxidation state and bond distances, in an experimental sample. The next component scientists are looking for is using diffraction to inform the crystal structure of the material and to gather information about strain, explained Andrew Kiss, the lead beamline scientist for the SRX.

Musterman hopes to build on the electron diffraction mapping he did during his PhD work when he studied the crystals he laser-fabricated in glass. X-rays, he explained, are more sensitive to atomic arrangements than electrons and are better at mapping strain.

Musterman’s “background in materials science and crystal structures made him an excellent candidate for a post-doc position,” Kiss said.

The SRX has applications in material science, geological science and biological imaging, among other disciplines. 

Glass questions

For his PhD research, Musterman worked to understand how glass is crystallizing, particularly as he applied a laser during the process. He explored how crystal growth in glass is unique compared with other methods, leading to new structures where the crystal lattice can rotate as it grows.

Musterman finds the crystallization of glass ‘fascinating.” Using diffraction, he was able to watch the dynamics of the earliest stages after a crystal has formed. In his PhD work, he used a spectroscopy method to understand the dynamics of glass structure before the crystal had formed.

Musterman started working at the SRX beamline in June of 2022. He was already familiar with the beamline operation, data collection and types of data he could acquire, which has given him a head start in terms of understanding the possibilities and limitations.

In his postdoctoral research, he is developing diffraction mapping and is also finishing up the experiments he conducted during his PhD.

Himanshu Jain, Musterman’s PhD advisor at Lehigh who is Professor of Materials Science and Engineering, was pleased with the work Musterman did during his five years in his lab. Jain sees potential future extensions and applications of those efforts.

Musterman’s research “forms a foundation for integrated photonics, which is expected to revolutionize communications, sensors, computation and other technologies the way integrated circuits and microelectronics did 50-60 years ago,” Jain explained in an email. The goal is to “construct optical circuits of single crystal waveguides in a glass platform.”

Musterman’s work “showed details of these optical elements made in glass by a laser,” he added.

Jain, who is an alumnus of BNL, indicated that his lab is continuing to pursue the research Musterman started, with his former graduate student as a collaborator and guide.

Musterman appreciates the opportunity to work with other scientists from different academic and geographic backgrounds. In addition to working with other scientists and helping to refine the functionality of the SRX beamline, he plans to continue glass and glass crystallization research and their interactions with lasers. As he refines techniques, he hopes to answer questions such as measuring strain.

As glass is heated, atoms form an ordered crystalline arrangement that begins to grow. The nucleation event and crystal growth occurs at the atomic scale, which makes it difficult to observe experimentally. Nucleation is also rare enough to make it difficult to simulate.

Most theories describe crystal nucleation and growth in aggregate, leaving several questions unanswered about these processes on single crystals, Musterman explained.

As they are for most material processing, temperature and time are the most important factors for glass formation and glass crystallization.

Historically, studies of glass structure started shortly after the discovery of x-ray diffraction in 1913. In the 1950’s, S. Donald Stookey at Corning discovered he could crystallize glass materials to improve properties such as fracture resistance, which led to a new field of studies. Laser induced single crystal formation is one of the more recent developments.

Musterman and his colleagues found that laser crystallization does not always produce the same phase as bulk crystallization, although this is an active area of research.

Musterman created videos of the earliest stages of crystal growth under laser irradiation by direct imaging and with electron and x-ray diffraction.

Kiss anticipates that Musterman, who is reporting to him, will build infrastructure and understanding of the detection system in the first year, which includes building scanning routines to ensure that they know how to collect and interpret the data.

Once Musterman demonstrates this proficiency, the beamline scientists believe this expanded technical ability will interest scientists in several fields, such as materials science, energy science, Earth and environmental science and art conservation.

Pitching in with former colleagues

While Musterman is not required to work with other beamline users, he has helped some of his former colleagues at Lehigh as they “try to get their best data,” he said. He has also spoken with a scientist at Stony Brook University who has been collecting diffraction data.

A native of Troy, Missouri, Musterman lives in an apartment in Coram. When he was younger, he said science appealed to him because he was “always curious about how things worked.” He said he frequently pestered his parents with questions.

His father John, who owns a metal fabrication and machining business, would take various ingredients from the kitchen and encourage his son to mix them to see what happened. 

As for the future, Musterman would like to work longer term in a lab like Brookhaven National Laboratory or in industrial research.

Maggie Sullivan (Kevin Coughlin/Brookhaven National Laboratory)

Maggie Sullivan, an experienced leader and manager of the Talent Management group at the U.S. Department of Energy’s Brookhaven National Laboratory, was recently named Chief Human Resources Officer and Assistant Laboratory Director for Human Resources. Sullivan took over the position from Bob Lincoln, who transitioned to an advisory role after serving more than 12 years in the position.

Since joining the Lab in 2011, Sullivan has progressively assumed more responsibility, most recently leading a multidisciplinary team of HR professionals and administrators in training, recruitment, leadership development, and HR systems.

“Throughout her 12 years at Brookhaven, Maggie has demonstrated a strong ability to work with constituents across the Laboratory and to appreciate the role that each member of the Lab community plays in achieving our mission,” said Laboratory Director JoAnne Hewett. “She has also worked closely with senior leadership on major Lab initiatives and institutional-level processes, giving her insight into how the Lab and its senior leadership team operate.”

Sullivan has implemented best-in-class leadership development programs, including mentoring, the Lab’s Science and Engineering Development Program, and LEADER program for supervisory development. Most recently, she co-led the multi-year effort to modernize the Lab’s human capital management system. Sullivan has also served as the co-leader of the Lab’s recent engagement survey and continues to support that effort. Sullivan has also played a lead role in the design and delivery of supervisory and leadership training programs across the Battelle laboratory complex.

Sullivan partners closely with Brookhaven’s Chief Diversity Officer to promote a diverse, equitable, and inclusive work culture and is a key contributor to the Lab’s annual diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) plan. She is also a member of the Lab’s Executive DEI Council and the DEI Management Council, and she serves on the Human Resources Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Council.

“I’m excited and looking forward to working closely with Lab leadership and staff as we continue to build our future workforce, advance DEI efforts, and review and modernize our HR processes and functions to best serve the Laboratory and our current and future staff,” said Sullivan. “We have a very talented HR team in place, and together we will create positive change for the Lab.”

Prior to her current role, the Hampton Bays resident was the Lab’s learning and development manager from 2011 to 2017. From 1989 to 2011, she worked for the Applied Research Corporation in Metuchen, NJ, first as a consultant, then senior consultant, then executive vice president.

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, visit science.energy.gov.

Ann Emrick. Photo courtesy of BNL

Ann Emrick of East Patchogue has been named Deputy Director for Operations at the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Brookhaven National Laboratory, effective Oct. 1. Emrick, a longtime Brookhaven Lab employee, takes over from Jack Anderson, who stepped down at the end of September after 10 years in the position.

In her new role, Emrick will oversee organizations that provide the bulk of support services for the Lab, including operation and maintenance of more than 300 buildings, several of which are unique, world-class scientific facilities. She will also work closely with Lab Director JoAnne Hewett, Deputy Director for Science & Technology John Hill, and the rest of the Lab’s senior leadership team on day-to-day operations and strategic planning for the Lab’s future.

“I’m excited to have Ann join Brookhaven’s leadership team,” said Laboratory Director JoAnne Hewett. “She brings tremendous experience and knowledge of the Lab, combined with enthusiasm for the role.”

During Emrick’s 36 years at Brookhaven Lab, she has served in progressively more impactful leadership roles across Brookhaven, the Battelle-affiliated labs, and the DOE complex. Most recently, Emrick was the directorate chief operating officer (DCOO) for the Lab’s Environment, Biology, Nuclear Science & Nonproliferation Directorate, the Computational Science Initiative, and the Advanced Technology Research Office.

“I am honored to have been selected for this position and thrilled to be working alongside JoAnne Hewett, John Hill, and the rest of the Lab leadership team at this exciting time at Brookhaven,” said Emrick. “The Lab’s future is bright with the Electron-Ion Collider project underway and our many scientific programs achieving impressive results. I plan to do my best to ensure operational excellence and to make Brookhaven Lab the best place for doing science.”

Sharon Kohler. Photo from BNL

Sharon Kohler—a leader with more than 30 years of experience managing environment, safety, health, and operations at U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) facilities with complex operational environments—took on the role of associate laboratory director (ALD) for environment, safety, and health (ES&H) at DOE’s Brookhaven National Laboratory on Sept. 25.

Overseeing 135 employees and an annual budget of over $30 million, Kohler will be responsible for environmental protection and occupational safety and health at Brookhaven Lab’s 5,300-acre site, ensuring compliance with federal, state, and local regulations that protect the Laboratory’s 2,800 employees, the public, and the environment. Kohler will be responsible for work in the Environmental Protection, Radiological Control, and Safety & Health Services divisions, along with the Lab’s environmental cleanup and stewardship program.

“World-class science requires firm commitments to working safely and protecting the environment,” said Brookhaven Lab Director JoAnne Hewett. “As we welcome Sharon Kohler, we look to her as a leader and an advocate for the health and safety of our staff, the community, and the environment we share.”

Sharon Kohler has deep expertise in safety programs and practices, operations, and environmental management from years of experience at fellow DOE facilities. We are grateful she is bringing that expertise to Brookhaven to continue the safe conduct of research today and in the future,” said Jack Anderson, who led the hiring effort for this position and served as the Lab’s deputy director of operations before retiring Sept. 30.

Kohler comes to Brookhaven Lab from DOE’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL), where she held a variety of operational leadership roles over 17 years.

“I am grateful for the tremendous opportunity to continue serving the DOE community and sharing my passion for safety in the next chapter of my career at Brookhaven National Laboratory,” said Kohler. “I am excited to join the team of talented ES&H professionals supporting the Lab’s diverse science missions and world-class facilities.”

Most recently, Kohler served as director of ORNL’s Safety and Operations Services Division in the Environment, Safety, Health, and Quality Directorate (ESH&Q) and was responsible for the worker safety and health and research work control management systems. She previously supported ORNL as operations manager of ESH&Q, ESH&Q group leader at the Spallation Neutron Source, operations manager of the Neutron Sciences Directorate, and health and safety programs group leader in ESH&Q. Kohleralso led ORNL’s independent oversight organization.

Before joining ORNL in 2006, Kohler spent 16 years at DOE’s Environmental Management Program, Fernald Closure Project near Cincinnati, Ohio. While at Fernald, she directed programs related to work control, occupational safety, industrial hygiene, occupational medicine, nuclear criticality, safety analysis, integrated safety management, training, health and wellness, radiation protection, and emergency management.

Kohler earned a bachelor’s degree in business management from Virginia Tech and a master’s in industrial engineering, occupational, and system safety from the University of Cincinnati. She is a certified safety professional.

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, visit science.energy.gov.

Educational Programs Administrator Michele Darienzo Photo from BNL

By Daniel Dunaief

Brookhaven National Laboratory hopes to inspire the scientists of the future.

The Department of Energy sponsored national laboratory, which attracts scientists from all over the world to its state-of-the-art facility, opens its doors regularly to local students and teachers, with researchers and educators translating what they do to area residents at all levels of scientific development and understanding.

Amid so many other efforts and with a welcome return to on-site education after pandemic restrictions over the last few years, BNL received DOE funding to help eight area teachers learn how to create computer coding.

In their classrooms, these educators have shared what they studied this past summer with their students.

Amanda Horn

Coding, which uses programs like Python and Arduino, can help scientists create a set of instructions that allow computers to process and sort through data more rapidly than any person could by hand.

At the same time, a knowledge of coding can and does provide students with tools that scientists seek when they are choosing graduate students, technicians or staff in their laboratories.

Coding helps to set students “up for a job,” said Michele Darienzo, Educational Programs Administrator and one of the two teachers for the four-week summer program. “It puts you at the top of the pile.”

Darienzo added that efforts such as these prepare the science, technology, engineering and math workforce for the future.

Using modern technology, researchers collect data in a wide range of fields at a rate that requires technological help to sort through it and derive meaning from it.

“We’re at the point where lots of projects are collecting so much data and information,” said Darienzo. “We have one experiment [that is producing] many iPhones per second worth of data. That’s not something a person can do in their lifetime.”

Darienzo taught the programming language Python to the class of teachers, while Amanda Horn, who is also an Educational Programs Administrator, instructed these educators with Arduino.

“It went really well,” said Horn. “The teachers seemed really engaged in everything we were doing.”

A day in the life of a river

Bernadette Uzzi

Beyond the on site experience at BNL, Horn accompanied a class this fall or a Day in the Life of the Carmans River at Smith Point County Marina.

The students used sensors to measure numerous variables, such as temperature, pressure and humidity. With another sensor, they were able to measure carbon dioxide levels.

“If you cup your hand around the sensor, you can graph [the level of the gas] in real time using the code,” said Horn. Variabilities occurred because of the movement of air, among other factors, she added.

The students on the trip “seemed excited [to use the sensors] and to get a sense of how they worked,” Horn said.

In the context of global warming in which greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide drive an increase in temperature, Horn addressed why it’s important to measure the levels of the gas.

Ongoing efforts

Training teachers to code represents one of numerous educational efforts BNL offers.

The Office of Educational Programs has hosted over 30,000 participants in various programs in its K-12 and university science education programs.

Kenneth White

Bringing students back on site this year after suspending in person visits amid the pandemic created a “big difference” for students, in terms of their excitement and enthusiasm, said Kenneth White, Manager of the Office of Educational Programs.

Jeffrey Tejada, a junior at Brown University, conducted summer research in the Computational Sciences Initiative.

Tejada, who grew up in Patchogue and moved to Medford, appreciated the opportunities he’s had since he started coming to BNL at the age of 14.

“It’s crazy how incredible BNL Is as a resource,” said Tejada, whose parents are immigrants from the Dominican Republic.

Indeed, the first year Tejada attended, Aleida Perez, Manager, University Relations and DOE Programs at BNL, needed to convince his mother Rosa Tejada that the effort, which didn’t involve any pay, would benefit her son.

“My mom asked [Perez,], ‘how worth it is this?’” Tejada recalled. Perez told Rosa Tejada, “You have to do this.”

His mom didn’t understand, but she listened and “that’s all that mattered,” as Tejada not only conducted research over the years, but is also planning to earn his PhD after he graduates.

White suggested that the recent coding effort was a recognition that students coming for internships at BNL or for scientific training opportunities elsewhere ended up spending considerable time trying to “figure out the basics” of coding.

Aleida Perez

In the first year of the teaching program, BNL reached out to teachers in 20 school districts that met particular criteria, including serving a high percentage of students that are traditionally under-represented in STEM fields. This included Longwood, Hampton Bays, Williams Floyd, South Huntington, Roosevelt, Central Islip, Middle Country and Brentwood.

The first week of the program was “frightening” for some of the teachers, who hadn’t had coding experience, said Perez. The teachers were “glad they came back for week two.”

As a part of the program, teachers presented their coding lessons to high school students on site at BNL, said Bernadette Uzzi, Manager, K-12 Programs in the Office of Educational Programs.

The final assessment test was a “pretty fun day,” Uzzi said, as the students pushed teachers to go further with their outdoor explorations.

Uzzi was thrilled when she had read that the Department of Energy had invited BNL to write a proposal for this pilot program. “Coding skills are important to be a scientist, no matter what field you’re in” she said. “There’s definitely a gap in what students are learning in school versus what is needed in the STEM workforce.”

Summer of ’24

At this point, it’s unclear if the DOE will build on this pilot program and offer additional teachers the opportunity to learn coding and bring this skill back to their classroom.

Uzzi said she would like to increase the number of teacher participants to 12 next year and to add physics applications to the current course work, which included a focus on environmental climate science.

Esther Tsai is one of four scientists at the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Brookhaven National Laboratory to be selected by DOE’s Office of Science to receive significant funding through its Early Career Research Program. Photo courtesy of BNL

By Daniel Dunaief

This is part 2 of a 2-part series.

Half of this year’s crop of recipients from New York State for Early Career Awards from the Department of Energy came from Brookhaven National Laboratory.

With ideas for a range of research efforts that have the potential to enhance basic knowledge and lead to technological innovations, two of the four winners earned awards in basic energy science, while the others scored funds from high energy physics and the office of nuclear physics.

“Supporting America’s scientists and researchers early in their careers will ensure the United States remains at the forefront of scientific discovery,” Secretary of Energy Jennifer Granholm said in a statement. The funding provides resources to “find the answers to some of the most complex questions as they establish themselves as experts in their fields.”

The DOE chose the four BNL recipients based on peer review by outside scientific experts. All eligible researchers had to have earned their PhDs within the previous 12 years and had to conduct research within the scope of the Office of Science’s eight major program areas.

Last week, the TBR News Media  highlighted the work of Elizabeth Brost and Derong Xu. This week, we will feature the efforts of Esther Tsai and Joanna Zajac.

Esther Tsai

Esther Tsai is one of four scientists at the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Brookhaven National Laboratory to be selected by DOE’s Office of Science to receive significant funding through its Early Career Research Program. Photo courtesy of BNL

Listening to her in-laws argue over whom Alexa, the virtual assistant, listens to more, Esther Tsai had an idea for how to help the scientists who trek to BNL for their experiments. As a member of the beamline staff at the National Synchrotron Lightsource II, Tsai knew firsthand the struggles staff and visiting scientists face during experiments.

Artificial intelligence systems, she reasoned, could help bridge the knowledge gap between different domain experts and train students and future generations of scientists, some of whom might not be familiar with the coding language of Python.

In work titled “Virtual Scientific Companion for Synchrotron Beamlines,” Tsai, who is a scientist in the Electronic Nanomaterials Group of the Center for Functional Nanomaterials, is developing a virtual scientific companion called VISION. The system, which is based on a natural language based interaction, will translate English to programming language Python. 

“VISION will allow for easy, intuitive and customized operation for instruments without programming experience or deep understanding of the control system,” said Tsai.

The system could increase the efficiency of experiments, while reducing bottlenecks at the lightsource, which is a resource that is in high demand among researchers throughout the country and the world.

Staff spend about 20 percent of user-support time on training new users, setting up operation and analysis protocols and performing data interpretation, Tsai estimated. Beamline staff often have to explain how Python works to control the instrument and analyze data.

VISION, however, can assist with or perform all of those efforts, which could increase the efficiency of scientific discoveries.

After the initial feelings of shock at receiving the award and gratitude for the support she received during the award preparation, Tsai shared the news with friends and family and then went to the beamline to support users over the weekend.

As a child, Tsai loved LEGO and jigsaw puzzles and enjoyed building objects and solving problems. Science offers the most interesting “puzzles to solve and endless possibilities for new inventions.”

Tsai appreciates the support she received from her parents, who offered encouragement throughout her study and career. Her father Tang Tsai, who is a a retired professor in Taiwan, often thought about research and scribbled equations on napkins while waiting for food in restaurants. On trips, he’d bring papers to read and shared his thoughts. Tsai’s mom Grace, a professor in management in Taiwan who plans to retire soon, also supported her daughter’s work. Both parents read press releases about Tsai’s research and shared their experience in academia.

Tsai thinks it’s exciting to make the imaginary world of Star Trek and other science fiction stories a reality through human-AI interactions.

Joanna Zajac

From left, Joanna Zajac is one of four scientists at the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Brookhaven National Laboratory to be selected by DOE’s Office of Science to receive significant funding through its Early Career Research Program. Photo courtesy of BNL

A quantum scientist in the Instrumentation Division, Joanna Zajac is developing a fundamental understanding of fast light-matter interconnects that could facilitate long distance quantum networks.

Zajac will design and build systems that use quantum dots to generate single photos in the wavelengths used for optical telecommunications.

These quantum dots could potentially generate photons that would work at telecommunication and atomic wavelengths, which could reduce the losses to almost nothing when quantum information travels through the current optical fibers network. Losses are currently around 3.5 decibels per kilometer, Zajac explained in an email.

By coupling quantum dot single photons with alkali vapors, the light-matter interconnects may operate as a basis for quantum information, making up nodes of quantum network connected by optical links.

“Within this project, we are going to develop fundamental understanding of interactions therein allowing us to develop components of long-distance quantum networks,” Zajac said in a statement. “This DOE award gives me a fantastic opportunity to explore this important topic among the vibrant scientific community in Brookhaven Lab’s Instrumentation Division and beyond.”

Zajac explained that she was excited to learn that her project had been selected for this prestigious award. “I have no doubt that we have fascinating physics to learn,” she added.

In her first year, she would like to set up her lab space to conduct these measurements. This will also include development experimental infrastructure such as microscopes and table-top optical experiments. She hopes to have some proof-of-principle experiments. 

She has served as a mentor for numerous junior scientists and calls herself “passionate” when it comes to working with students and interns.

Zajac, who received her master’s degree in physics from Southampton University and her PhD in Physics from Cardiff University, said she would like to encourage more women to enter the science, technology, engineering and mathematics fields, “as they are still underrepresented,” she said. “I would encourage them to study STEM subjects and ensure them that they will do just great.”

Elizabeth Brost is one of four scientists at the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Brookhaven National Laboratory selected by DOE’s Office of Science to receive significant funding through its Early Career Research Program. Photo courtesy of BNL

By Daniel Dunaief

This is part 1 of a 2-part series.

Half of this year’s crop of recipients from New York State for Early Career Awards from the Department of Energy came from Brookhaven National Laboratory.

With ideas for a range of research efforts that have the potential to enhance basic knowledge and lead to technological innovations, two of the four winners earned awards in basic energy science, while the others scored funds from high energy physics and the office of nuclear physics.

“Supporting America’s scientists and researchers early in their careers will ensure the United States remains at the forefront of scientific discovery,” Secretary of Energy Jennifer Granholm said in a statement. The funding provides resources to “find the answers to some of the most complex questions as they establish themselves as experts in their fields.”

The DOE chose the four BNL recipients based on peer review by outside scientific experts. All eligible researchers had to have earned their PhDs within the previous 12 years and had to conduct research within the scope of the Office of Science’s eight major program areas.

In a two part series, TBR News Media will highlight the work of these four researchers. This week’s Power of 3 column features Elizabeth Brost and Derong Xu. Next week, TBR will highlight the work of Joanna Zajac and Esther Tsai.

Elizabeth ‘Liza’ Brost

Elizabeth Brost is one of four scientists at the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Brookhaven National Laboratory selected by DOE’s Office of Science to receive significant funding through its Early Career Research Program. Photo courtesy of BNL

In work titled “Shining Light on the Higgs Self-Interaction,” Brost, who is an associate scientist, is studying properties of the Higgs Boson, which was a long sought after particle that helps explain why some particles have mass. The Standard Model of Particle Physics, which predicted the existence of the Higgs Boson, also suggests that the Higgs field can interact with itself. This interaction should produce pairs of Higgs Bosons at the Large Hadron Collider at CERN in Switzerland, where Brost works.

A significant challenge in Brost’s work is that the production of such pairs occurs 1,000 times less frequently than the production of single Higgs Bosons, which researchers discovered to considerable fanfare in 2012 after a 48-year search.

Brost is leading the effort to use machine learning algorithms to cherry pick collision data in real time. Since these events are so rare, “it’s very important that we are able to save promising collision events,” she explained in an email.

The LHC collides protons at a rate of 40 million times per second, but the facility only keeps about 100,000 of those.

Thus far, everything Brost has seen agrees with the Standard Model of Particle Physics predictions, but “that just means we have to work harder and develop new strategies to search for new physics,” she said.

Brost earned her undergraduate degree in physics and French from Grinnell College and her PhD in physics from the University of Oregon. When she learned she’d won this early career award, she “couldn’t believe it was real for quite some time,” she wrote. “The hardest part was keeping it a secret until the official announcement.

She explained that she was only allowed to tell a few select people at BNL and close family members about the distinction, who were also sworn to secrecy. 

The award will allow her to expand the scope of the work she’s doing and to hire additional staff.

As an experienced mentor, Brost recognizes that there is “a lot of pressure to work on whatever is the newest or coolest thing in order to stand out from a crowd” at a collaboration like ATLAS [an extensive particle detector experiment at the Large Hadron Collider] which involves over 3,000 people.” She urged researchers to work on the physics they find interesting and exciting.

Derong Xu

Derong Xu is one of four scientists at the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Brookhaven National Laboratory selected by DOE’s Office of Science to receive significant funding through its Early Career Research Program. Photo courtesy of BNL

An Assistant Physicist, Xu is working to enhance the  efficiency of the Electron-Ion Collider, a marquee tool that BNL will start building next year and is expected to be operational in the 2030’s.

The EIC will collide beams of electrons and protons or other atomic nuclei. By reducing the beam size, or packing the same number of particles into a smaller space, the EIC can increase the likelihood of these collisions.

Specifically, Xu plans to flatten the beam, which has never been used in a hadron collider. He will explore ways to reduce the interactions between beams and superconducting magnets. He will pursue a combined approach using theoretical and experimental methods, which will affect the parameters for the future EIC.

Generating flat hadron beams in existing hadron machines remains “unexplored, making our project a pioneering effort dedicated to investigating methods for maintaining beam flatness,” Xu explained in an email.

In addition to leveraging flat iron beams, Xu is also considering ways to increase the beam intensity by injecting a greater number of particles into the accelerator, which would boost the collision rate. Such an approach, however, means more electromagnetic force between the beams, requiring additional effort to maintain beam flatness.

To explore these potential approaches and determine an optimal trade-off between strategies, his project will collaborate with leading experts in accelerator physics, conduct comprehensive simulations and investigate an array of techniques.

“Through pushing the boundaries of accelerator technology and exploring diverse construction and beam creation techniques, we aspire to unlock novel scientific frontiers and achieve groundbreaking discoveries in nuclear physics,” he explained.

Receiving the award filled Xu with “immense excitement and pride.” He and his wife called their parents, who are traditional farmers, in China. When he explained to them that the award is a substantial amount of money, they advised him to “try your best and not waste the money,” he shared.

At an early age, Xu showed a strong interest in math and physics. His parents rewarded him with snacks when he got high scores. 

“That was my first equation in my life: high scores = more snacks,” he joked.

To share the subatomic world with people outside his field, Xu often makes analogies. He compares the collision of an electron beam with a proton beam to shooting a flying ping-pong ball with a gun. The ping-pong ball’s size (which, in this case, is a collection of protons) resembles the diameter of a human hair. The collisions create scattered products that provide insights into the subatomic world.

John Hill. Photo from BNL

John Hill, a distinguished physicist who is widely recognized as a world leader in x-ray scattering research, has been named deputy director for science and technology (DDST) at the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Brookhaven National Laboratory, effective July 1.

Hill’s appointment comes after an international search that began in March 2022, when current DDST Robert Tribble announced his plans to step down after eight years in the position.

“John Hill offers vision, institutional knowledge, and a track record of sound leadership,” said JoAnne Hewett, who was named the next director of Brookhaven Lab in April. “I look forward to working with him and the entire Brookhaven Lab community at the forefront of science.”

Jack Anderson is serving as interim director until Hewett joins the Lab later this summer.

In his new position, Hill will work closely with Hewett, the Lab’s science leaders, and the Brookhaven Science Associates (BSA) Board of Directors and its committees in charting the Laboratory’s future research directions (BSA, a partnership between Stony Brook University and Battelle, manages and operates the Lab on behalf of the DOE Office of Science).  More than 2,600 scientists, engineers, technicians, and professionals at Brookhaven are currently working to address challenges in nuclear and high energy physics, clean energy and climate science, quantum computing, artificial intelligence, isotope research and production, accelerator science and technology, and national security.

“I am incredibly excited to be taking on this role,” said Hill who is a resident of Stony Brook. “Brookhaven Lab has a long history of carrying out world-leading science for the benefit of the Nation and I am honored to be chosen to help lead the Lab as we continue that tradition and seek to answer some of the most important scientific questions facing the world today.”

Hill, a long-time employee of Brookhaven Lab, joined its Physics Department as a postdoc in 1992. He progressed through the ranks and has been director of the National Synchrotron Light Source II (NSLS-II), a DOE Office of Science User Facility located at Brookhaven, since 2015.

NSLS-II is one of the most advanced synchrotron light sources in the world. It produces ultra-bright x-rays for researchers to study materials for advances in energy, quantum computing, medicine, and more.

In addition, Hill has served as deputy associate laboratory director for energy and photon sciences since 2013. He also chaired Brookhaven Lab’s COVID-19 science and technology working group and represented Brookhaven as a member of DOE’s National Virtual Biotechnology Laboratory, a consortium comprising all 17 national laboratories working to address challenges in the fight against COVID-19.

Hill’s research has focused on using resonant elastic and inelastic x-ray scattering to study magnetic and electronic phenomena. He has authored more than 120 articles published in peer-reviewed journals and has been recognized with both a Presidential Early Career Award and a DOE Young Independent Scientist Award. He was elected a fellow of the American Physical Society. Brookhaven Lab awarded Hill its Science and Technology Award—one of the Lab’s highest accolades—in 2012.

Hill earned a Ph.D. in physics from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He earned his bachelor’s degree in physics from Imperial College in London.

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Brookhaven celebrated its 75th anniversary in 2022 and is home to seven Nobel Prize-winning discoveries and countless advances. Its 5,322-acre site attracts scientists from across the country and around the world, offering them expertise and access to large user facilities with unique capabilities. Each year, Brookhaven hosts thousands of guest researchers and facility users—in-person and virtually—from universities, private industry, and government agencies. The Lab’s annual budget is approximately $700 million, much of which is funded by the DOE and its Office of Science.

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, visit science.energy.gov.

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