Reshaping the world of research through remote experimentation

We all remember the impact of stay-at-home-orders on our everyday lives in spring 2020. However, it was not only restaurants, salons, flower shops, and bookstores that had to close their doors. National user research facilities shut down most operations, closing the doors to thousands of visiting scientists, and bringing research on new batteries, pharmaceutical drugs, and many other materials to a grinding halt, at a time when the country needed these facilities more than ever. So, seven user research facilities decided to form a team of experts, the Remote Access Working Group (RAWG), to figure out how these facilities could keep the science going even when the researchers couldn’t access them in person.

The solution is as simple as it is difficult. Research facilities that serve visiting researchers have to create an environment in which experiments can be run from afar – with nearly no human interaction. Scientists have dubbed this new way of doing research remote experimentation. While each facility started the unexpected journey to remote experimentation on their own, the RAWG has brought all the different ideas together to help each facility overcome the numerous challenges encountered along the way.

Most challenges result from the nature of how these facilities operate. All seven facilities are neutron or light sources funded by the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) Office of Science. This means they generate highly intense beams of neutrons or x-rays that visiting scientists use to study the inner workings of materials. These visiting researchers, or users, collaborate with facility staff to study everything from ancient mummies to novel quantum materials, generating new knowledge daily.

The Desolation of COVID-19

In a world before COVID-19, these user facilities were a hub for research teams. Scientists traveled to them, used unique tools to study their materials, worked with brilliant people on all kinds of scientific questions, then left the facility with new data that could answer these questions. With the ongoing pandemic, travelling to a facility in a different state—let alone a different country—is not an option. And with this, the well-established cycle of creating new knowledge was broken.

To re-start this cycle without going back to the old ways, each facility was confronted with a host of challenges that ranged from how to control an experiment from afar to how to get the samples to the facility in the first place. This was just the tip of the iceberg of issues the pandemic created. The RAWG’s mission is to share experiences and solutions for these issues among the facilities.

The Fellowship of Remote Experimentation

The RAWG was built upon the existing collaboration of the five DOE light source facilities. Their directors meet twice a year to discuss common challenges so that they can form teams to tackle various issues. So, it was only natural to join forces again when COVID-19 hit.

Read more on the Brookhaven website

Image: Beamline scientist, Olaf Borkiewicz from the APS, is wearing a Hololens for a virtual session of National School on Neutron and X-Ray Scattering held each summer. (Note: This photo was taken while fully vaccinated individuals were allowed to not wear masks indoors.) 

Credit: APS, Argonne National Laboratory

Uniting science to address climate change

Key leaders and researchers from major US and European big science laboratories, namely EIROforum (Europe’s eight largest intergovernmental scientific research organisations, including CERN, EMBL, ESA, ESO, ESRF, EUROfusion, European XFEL and ILL) and the US Department of Energy’s seventeen National Laboratories (Ames, Argonne, Brookhaven, Fermi, Idaho, Jefferson, Los Alamos, Lawrence Berkeley, Lawrence Livermore, NETL, NREL, Oak Ridge, Pacific Northwest, PPPL, SLAC, Sandia and Savannah River), met by videoconference ahead of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change Conference of Parties (COP26).

Sharing the same values, and convinced that science performs best through collaboration, the EIROforum’s directors and NLDC (comprised of directors from the US National Laboratories) affirmed their common commitment to unite science towards a sustainable and resilient global society and economy:

  • By stepping up their scientific collaboration on carbon-neutral energy and climate change
  • By sharing best practices to improve the climate sustainability and carbon footprint of Europe’s and US’s big science facilities
  • By sharing knowledge and fostering public engagement on clean energy and climate change research

Read more on the ESRF website

Image: COP26

Credit: ESRF

Five U.S. light sources form data solution task force

New collaboration between scientists at the five U.S. Department of Energy light source facilities will develop flexible software to easily process big data.

Light source facilities are tackling some of today’s biggest scientific challenges, from designing new quantum materials to revealing protein structures. But as these facilities continue to become more technologically advanced, processing the wealth of data they produce has become a challenge of its own. By 2028, the five U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) Office of Science light sources, will produce data at the exabyte scale, or on the order of billions of gigabytes, each year. Now, scientists have come together to develop synergistic software to solve that challenge.
With funding from DOE for a two-year pilot program, scientists from the five light sources have formed a Data Solution Task Force that will demonstrate, build, and implement software, cyberinfrastructure, and algorithms that address universal needs between all five facilities. These needs range from real-time data analysis capabilities to data storage and archival resources.
“It is exciting to see the progress that is being made by all the light sources working together to produce solutions that will be deployed across the whole DOE complex,” said Stuart Campbell, leader of the data acquisition, management and analysis group at the National Synchrotron Light Source II (NSLS-II), a DOE Office of Science user facility at DOE’s Brookhaven National Laboratory.

>Read more on the NSLS-II at Brookhaven National Lab

>Explore the other member facilities of the task force and read about their latest science news: Advanced Light Source (ALS), Advanced Photon Source (APS), Stanford Synchrotron Radiation Lightsource (SSRL), Linac Coherent Light Source (LCLS).

Image: Members of the task force met at NSLS-II for a project kickoff meeting in August of 2019.