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Brookhaven National Laboratory

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.

By Daniel Dunaief

For the first time since May 2023, Brookhaven National Laboratory required masks on site at its facility starting on Jan. 8, as the rate of hospital admissions for the virus that caused the pandemic climbed.

Following the Safer Federal Workforce Task Force, BNL, which is a Department of Energy-sponsored site, reinstituted the mask policy once Covid admissions climbed above 20 per 100,000 people in the county, as determined by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data.

The CDC level rose to 24.8 on the evening of Jan. 5 and the lab re-implemented its mask requirement on the following Monday. Area doctors said they’ve seen an increase in illnesses tied to Covid, particularly after people traveled during the December holidays.

“We’ve seen a lot more Covid,” said Dr. Sharon Nachman, chief of the Division of Pediatric Infectious Diseases at Stony Brook Children’s Hospital. 

Dr. Nachman said people who are talking to friends and neighbors are hearing regularly about those who are sick with Covid.

Stony Brook University Hospital is not requiring masking at all times. The hospital is recommending that people consider wearing masks. Medical staff entering patient rooms are wearing them.

People walking into the hospital will see “more people wearing masks” in general, she added. In addition to Covid, hospitals in the area are also seeing a “huge amount of flu,” Dr. Nachman said.


JoAnne Hewett leads her first staff meeting as the new lab director at Brookhaven National Laboratory Tuesday, Aug. 8. File photo from BNL

By Daniel Dunaief

JoAnne Hewett hit the ground running when she arrived at Brookhaven National Laboratory.

She had no choice.

On her first day, Hewett, who is the first woman to lead the Department of Energy lab in its 76-year history, had to decide how to handle a technical problem at the Relativistic Heavy Ion Collider, a machine that collides heavy beams of ions traveling around a 2.4-mile track.

Hewett, who is a theoretical physicist and had worked as associate lab director for fundamental physics and chief research at SLAC at Stanford University, was “able to grasp everything very quickly,” said Haiyan Gao, associate lab director for Nuclear and Particle Physics at BNL.

BNL decided to end its run of experiments on Aug. 4, earlier than the original plan for the end of September. It took some time to determine the root cause of the problem, which, fortunately, turned out to be a singular event and not a failure of the system.

Gao found it “quite refreshing in the sense that [Hewett] was very interested in the experimental, technical part” of the decision and called it “the right call.”

After arriving at BNL in August, Hewett has impressed many of the staff at BNL and is developing plans for the lab that extend into the next decade and beyond.

TBR News Media is pleased to name Hewett, who is a leader, an inspirational role model and a “people person,” as a 2023 Person of the Year.

In an interview, Hewett described an active first few days on the job.

“There’s nothing like a good initiation,” Hewett said. “Because I do have a collider and accelerator background, it was an easy decision to make.”

RHIC is planning to restart in March, which is about a month behind the normal schedule. Hewett expects the ion collider to get a full run for fiscal year 2024.

‘A breath of fresh air’

Having a new leader at the lab who does things differently “gets noticed,” said John Hill, the deputy director for science and technology. “She’s a breath of fresh air.”

Indeed, one of Hewett’s priorities has been to meet with all the technicians at the lab. She schedules group interactions where she talks with about 10 people at a time.

In addition to listening to the perspective of other BNL staff, Hewett wants “people to be enthusiastic here,” said Luisella Lari, project manager for the Electron-Ion Collider and senior scientist at BNL. “She takes time to explain the vision.”

Hewett’s approach, which includes a focus on the work and on the people who make the science possible, “makes me feel sure she is on our side” as an advocate, Lari added.

The new BNL lab director appreciates the pride people take in their work and in the effort to make contributions to everything from basic science to applied research that has the potential to contribute to new technology and to provide solutions for various challenges.

“People love their contribution to the big science mission,” said Hewett. “No matter what their role is, they understand that their contribution is important. We can’t get science out the door without them.”

Hewett wasn’t surprised to hear suggestions for ways to improve the lives of people at BNL. At the top of many people’s lists was reopening the cafeteria, which has been closed since the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We’re working very hard to get that open,” said Hewett.

Scientific goals

Top administrators at BNL appreciate Hewett’s long-range focus on improving the science and enhancing the equipment that makes discoveries possible.

Home to the National Synchrotron Lightsource II, which cost about $1 billion to make and was completed in 2015, BNL is focused on opportunities to upgrade a facility that can look at the inner workings of batteries while they are working or explore the interplay between the structure and function of important enzymes.

One of Hewett’s first questions to Hill was “what do you think about an upgrade,” he recalled. Hill said when it was first built, the NSLS-II was the brightest in the world, and now one or two other synchrotrons are brighter. She wanted to upgrade it to “keep its competitive edge.”

Hewett explained that the NSLS-II has the capacity for 60 beamlines. BNL has built 32 and is either constructing or planning another 12 to 15, which leaves room to plan and build 15 additional beamlines.

“Finishing that out is important,” said Hewett.

At the same time, BNL will be holding science workshops to determine which of the accelerator physics options makes sense. Hewett is also focused on enhancing the lab’s computing power.

“All science is data science,” she said. “We work so hard to create the data, we have to make sure we record and process it. If you don’t do that, you might as well not have run the facility.”

BNL just signed a funding request for a series of planned upgrades.

Hill is developing a year-long computational strategy, which includes a focus on the needs for the facility for the next 10 years.

One of the biggest appeals of coming to BNL for Hewett and for other scientists around the country and the world is the Electron-Ion Collider.

BNL won a competition to build the EIC on Long Island, with the help of Thomas Jefferson National Accelerator in Virginia. By colliding electrons and protons, the EIC will reveal how the subunits of protons and neutrons in the nucleus — the quarks and gluons — come together to help generate mass in visible matter.

Hewett is “heavily involved in the EIC, making sure we can deliver on that,” said Hill.

Recently, the Department of Energy passed a critical design landmark, which provides a green light to make long lead procurement items. Specifically, BNL received the authority to spend $100 million on items for construction of the collider that will take years to procure.

This, Hewett explained, is the approval before a funding baseline and schedule for the project.

“These take so long to order,” she said. “It’s not like going into a Target and picking something off the shelf. It takes a long time to keep the schedule on track.”

Hewett said she had no doubt the EIC team would pass this milestone.

She described the procurement project group as a rock star team and she had no doubt that they were going to get it.

BNL won’t get the official approval to spend money until January.

An appreciated first

Choosing Hewett to serve in the top role at BNL has inspired some of her fellow scientists and could serve as encouragement to other underrepresented people in scientific fields.

Her experience makes her “the best person for the job,” said Lari. “This is what I’d put before thinking she’s a woman.”

Lari said she is “extremely proud to be a part of her team because [Hewett] is a really competent scientist, person, and the fact that she’s a woman is a plus.”

Having a female lab director helps with recruitment, added Hill.

In dealing with some human resource issues, Hewett asked questions that reflected some of the challenges she faced, Hill said. “That was eye opening to me and will stick with me,” he added.

Personal inspiration

On the personal side, Hewett, who is a Star Trek fan and makes a quick lunch meal of yogurt and berries in her office on the fly, shared some of her personal struggles and decisions.

In a BNL video, she explained that she is a breast cancer survivor who dealt with the dreaded disease 16 years earlier.

“My main message is to increase awareness and the importance of screenings,” said Hewett. “If one more person gets screened because of the video, then that’s a success.”

Gao applauded Hewett’s message, even as she wasn’t sure she or others would be comfortable sharing personal health issues.

As for her move from California, Hewett, who is an only child, brought her 93-year old father Bob across the country with her.

Her father had moved with the family three times when Hewett was two, seven and 14, which created some symmetry for the latest travels.

The senior Hewett was prepared to travel to Long Island to be with his daughter, whom he calls his “best buddy.”

A dedicated daughter and lab director, Hewett comes to work energized by the achievements and warmth of the staff.

“I knew, of course, about the science before I came,” she said. “What I didn’t know was how wonderful all the people are. Everyone is extremely dedicated to the mission in their role and what they do. It’s like family.”

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.

Suji Park working at the QPress. Photo courtesy of BNL

By Daniel Dunaief

Technological advances, like the audiences who crave the latest gadgets and gizmos, often proceed with a sense of purpose and speed. Anything that gets in the way or slows down the process can become an obstacle to overcome.

And so it is for Suji Park, a member of the Research Staff at the Center for Functional Nanomaterials at Brookhaven National Laboratory. Park, who joined the lab just under four years ago, is helping in the process of creating a reliable and faster process to produce two dimensional objects that could become parts of future nanotechnology.

Unlike an assembly line production to manufacture cars or objects that are part of the visible world, Park is working with scientists from around the world at the QPress, an effort that started a year before she arrived to create miniature materials that could become part of a host of technological advances, including in quantum information systems.

In the three steps involved in stacking two dimensional structures, the QPress system can improve efficiencies.

In the process of exfoliation, scientists typically create monolayers manually, which involves a long training period, time and effort to make two dimensional flakes. With the right recipes, the QPress uses controlled conditions, some of which are beyond the human range, through a more reliable process that takes a few hours of training.

The most time consuming step in the process involves searching for flakes with particular properties. Park uses machine learning techniques to help researchers filter out thin flakes.

The QPress has not automated the stacking of flakes, but they have created a motorized machine they can control remotely.

“We can provide more precise manipulation to stack nanomaterials, which makes this process easier and faster” than a manual or other motorized setup, Park explained.

The manufacturing process was “not very systematically studied. People didn’t know exactly what the important factors were to make good, quality two-dimensional materials.”

One of the earliest parts of the QPress process involved trying to understand how the older methodologies worked. 

When Park started to design the exfoliation machine, she said she was “surprised” at how little people knew about the mechanism. Once scientists create flakes they need, they typically move on. At a place like BNL, however, staff scientists can spend time on fundamental studies.

BNL“decided to make a machine to study this process and to make two dimensional materials easier,” which would allow scientists to “spend their time on research and not on the process,” she said.

Like a good baker

Park described the process of making these critical parts as being akin to the way a baker combines ingredients to create a house special bread. She may not have an exact recipe, but combines ingredients and cooks them at a particular temperature to produce the desired product.

“Somebody who knows how to make a good, quality bread has a sense of how it’s done” by relying on intuitive experience, she said. “Human factors are involved.”

A bread machine, by contrast, makes similar quality breads regardless of who uses it, which is more like how the QPress is designed to work to help make quality, reproducible two dimensional materials for application in nanotechnology.

The mechanized QPress process can optimize the steps, control a host of parameters and increase the yield.

To be sure, Park suggested the process isn’t designed to reach mass production levels, which would take another level of investment. Instead, QPress is targeting lab research.

Greater efficiency

You Zhou, Assistant Professor at the University of Maryland, can’t fabricate materials that are chemically unstable or that are air sensitive. He could, however, do so at QPress.

“The QPress system offers better control and reliability than our home-built system,” Zhou said. “Depending on the situation, sometimes we send graduate students to work onsite at the QPress for a week. Other times, we perform experiments remotely. Both have been working well for us.”

The QPress process has created a higher yield, with larger samples that sped up the process of making materials.

Zhou added that the QPress system seems to be one of the most advanced available to researchers in terms of control and automation.

Greater efficiency has meant that his group “has become more productive and can invest their saved time in other research activities,” Zhou said. “The technology is still improving.”

The process

Researchers stack these structures for specific applications. Depending on the sequence and orientation of each layer, the structures can store, process or communicate information.

Park is working with users to discuss experiments in advance. The discussions involve considering the feasibility of creating the materials and structures.

Air sensitive two dimensional materials can degrade over time. BNL prepares flakes one or two days before scientists arrive.

A cataloger can scan a sample and detect mono to tri-layered graphene flakes using a machine based learning program. The QPress group doesn’t make heterostructures. Users need to do it themselves.

With the QPress under development, the user community has continued to build. Last year, the QPress worked with 20 to 30 scientists. The numbers this year are outpacing that demand.


Born and raised in the southern part of South Korea in Masan-si, which is now called Changwon-si, Park liked math and science as a teenager. She thought she’d become a teacher until she was accepted by POSTECH in her second grade of high school. During her undergraduate training, she decided to earn her PhD and become a scientist.

Currently a resident of Coram, Park loves working at the Center for Functional Nanomaterials. Outside of work, she enjoys watching movies, shows, painting, drawing, baking, cooking, and yoga. She recently started growing plants.

In her work, Park, who is one of two dedicated members of the QPress team, appreciates the opportunity to create efficiencies for other scientists.

A scene from 'Oppenheimer'

By Daniel Dunaief

Researchers at Brookhaven National Laboratory, Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory and Stony Brook University joined the chorus of moviegoers who enjoyed and appreciated the Universal film Oppenheimer.

“I thought the movie was excellent,” said Leemor Joshua-Tor, Professor and HHMI Investigator at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory. “It made me think, which is always a good sign.”

Yusuf Hannun, Vice Dean for Cancer Medicine at Stony Brook University, thought the movie was “terrific” and had anticipated the film would be a “simpler” movie.

Jeff Keister, leader of the Detector and Research Equipment Pool at NSLS-II at Brookhaven National Laboratory, described the movie as “interesting” and “well acted.”

Joshua-Tor indicated she didn’t know anything about Robert Oppenheimer, the title character and leader of the Manhattan Project that built the atomic bomb. She “learned lots of new things” about him, she wrote. “I knew he was targeted by McCarthy-ism, but didn’t realize how that came about and the details.”

Keister also didn’t know much about Oppenheimer, who was played by actor Cillian Murphy in the film. “Oppenheimer seemed to quietly struggle with finding his role in the story of the development of the atomic bomb,” Keister said. “At times, he wore the uniform, then later seemed to express regret.”

Like other researchers, particularly those involved in large projects that bring together people with different skills and from various cultural backgrounds, Oppenheimer led a diverse team of scientists amid the heightened tension of World War II.

Oppenheimer was “shown to have been granted an extremely powerful position and was able to form a relatively diverse team, although he was not able to win over all the brightest minds,” Keister wrote.

Joshua-Tor suggested Oppenheimer “charmed” the other scientists, who were so driven by the science and the goal that they “accepted him. The leader of the team should be a great scientist, but doesn’t necessarily have to be the biggest genius. There is a genius in being able to herd the cats in the right way.”

Joel Hurowitz, Associate Professor in the Department of Geosciences at Stony Brook University, “loved” the movie. Hurowitz has worked with large projects with NASA teams as a part of his research effort.

Hurowitz suggested that the work that goes into coordinating these large projects is “huge” and it requires “a well laid out organizational structure, effective leadership, and a team that is happy working hard towards a common goal.”

‘Stunning’ first bomb test

Keister described the first nuclear bomb test as “stunning” in the movie. “I have to wonder how the environmental and health impacts of such a test came to be judged as inconsequential.”

Some local scientists would have appreciated and enjoyed the opportunity to see more of the science that led to the creation of the bomb.

Science is the “only place the movie fell short,” Hannun said. “They could have spent a bit more time to indicate the basic science behind the project and maybe a bit more about the scientific accomplishments of the various participants.”

Given the focus of the movie on Oppenheimer and his leadership and ultimate ambivalence about the creation of the atomic bomb, Keister suggested that scientists “could be better encouraged to understand the impacts of applied uses of new discoveries. Scientists can learn to broaden their view to include means of mitigating potential negative impacts.”

Research sponsors, including taxpayers and their representatives, have an “ethical responsibility to incorporate scientists’ views of the full impacts into their decisions regarding applications and deployment of new technology,” Keister said.

Joshua-Tor thinks there “always has to be an ongoing conversation between scientists and the citizenry” which has to be an “informed, somewhat dispassionate conversation.”

Recommended movies about scientists

Local researchers also shared some of their film recommendations about scientists.

Hurowitz wrote that his favorite these days is Arrival, a science fiction film starring Amy Adams. If Hurowitz is looking for more lighthearted fare, he writes that “you can’t go wrong with Ghostbusters,” although he’s not sure the main characters Egon, Ray and Peter could be called scientists.

Keister also enjoys science fiction, as it “often challenges us with ethical dilemmas which need to be addressed.” While he isn’t sure he has a favorite, he recommended the sci-fi thriller Ex Machina starring Alicia Vikander as a humanoid robot with artificial intelligence,.

Joshua-Tor recalls liking the film A Beautiful Mind starring Russell Crowe and Jennifer Connelly as John and Alicia Nash. She also loved the film Hidden Figures, starring Taraji P Henson, Octavia Spencer and Janelle Monáe.