Innovative educational programs at Canadian Light Source

NSERC PromoScience awards $125K to innovative educational programs at Canadian Light Source.

The Canadian Light Source at the University of Saskatchewan has been awarded $125,000 by NSERC’s PromoScience program, to deliver innovative educational programs expected to reach students in over 100 schools across Canada.
PromoScience funding will enable teachers and students to perform hands-on research addressing real-world issues, through existing and new programs.

A new initiative, the Trans-Canadian Research & Environmental Education (TREE) project, will allow students from even the most remote communities across Canada to participate in a national research program in partnership with the Mistik Askiwin Dendrochronology (MAD) Lab at the University of Saskatchewan, using tree cores to study the environmental history of their community.

In an unprecedented collaboration between research and education, students will gather tree core samples and mail them to the CLS, where scientists will examine their chemical signatures while live streaming with the students who collected each sample. Teaching resources will help students to make sense of the data and to compare with other student samples from across the country, in order to understand how chemical changes in different tree cores correlate to their community’s environmental history.

“Students will learn about the life and nutrient cycles of trees, the trees’ ability to capture information in rings, and the nutrients in soil by working through modules and activities designed to engage students in the areas of STEM and traditional knowledge,” said Tracy Walker, Education Programs Lead at the CLS.

>Read more on the Canadian Light Source website

Microfluidic mixing chips can reveal how biomolecules interact

Christopher Flynn, a fourth year student majoring in Physics and Mathematics at Fort Lewis College, and a SUnRiSE student at Cornell this summer, is contributing to the design of microfluidic mixing chips which could significantly enhance our understanding of proteins and living cells.

Microfluidic mixing chips are used by scientists to analyze biological molecules. They have small channels in which biological solutions, usually solutions of protein, are mixed. Biological small angle x-ray solution scattering (BioSAXS) is then used to study how these biomolecules change under different conditions, for example when they mix with hormones and drugs or when they interact with other biomolecules. These observations can help further our understanding of how cells function.

With the intention of opening a door to the inner workings of cells, Flynn and Gillilan are continuing the work of Gillilan’s former postdoctoral student, Jesse Hopkins, who started a project on microfluidic chips more than two years ago. Hopkins was working on fabricating chips that could be used to observe molecular interactions and structural changes on a millisecond scale.

While Hopkins successfully designed almost every aspect of the chip, he was unable to get the final x-ray transparent window fixed on the chip without it leaking. Flynn’s main task over the summer is to resolve this. He creates chips in the Cornell NanoScale Science and Technology Facility (CNF), using techniques including photolithography and lamination. The chips have different layers, the faulty transparent window being in one of the last. After the first few layers of the chips are made, Flynn uses them to investigate different possibilities for the window. He expects to test these windows by pumping liquids through the chips, and if they have been fit successfully, to compare any results to computer simulations that Hopkins had developed.

>Read more on the Cornell High Energy Synchrotron Source

Image: Richard Gillilan and Topher Flynn. The channels of the mixing chips are 30 microns wide, 500 microns deep.; a difficult feat but important feature of the chip. 

The impact of summer undergraduate research programs extends beyond the laboratory

Conducting research at a world class facility is no doubt a once-in-a-lifetime experience for any undergraduate student.

By combining that research experience with meaningful peer-learning opportunities and dynamic outreach activities, a memorable summer of science inevitably occurs.
Summer undergraduate research students at CLASSE have been actively influencing the sphere of science education across campus and the community. During their brief time at CLASSE, these students are shaping the research that occurs in laboratory spaces, showcasing their efforts and understanding in conference rooms, and driving the conversations and questions that occur in communal areas. In the laboratory, student devote hours of their time combing through the literature, contributing to the investigation, collecting data, and compiling their results. In their offices, meeting rooms, and communal spaces students reveal their ideas, grow their understanding, and search for connections as they interact with their peers and network of mentors. In addition, outside of the lab and throughout campus and the greater community, students interact directly the public and share their passion for science.

Through informal presentations to mentors and colleagues, summer students reveal their insights and uncertainties surrounding their assigned projects. These talks provide young scientists and engineers with the opportunity to communicate their own understanding of their work to others. This communication helps to solidify their own understanding and stretch their abilities to express this knowledge in a clear, digestible manner.  Researchers must be skilled at transmitting their message so that others recognize the value and implications of their work. In order to be an effective scientist, students must practice being effective communicators and conveyors of knowledge for public consumption.

>Read more on the CHESS website

Image: Students provide others with updates on their research progress via informal chalk talks.

Training to students from the Middle East

Students from SESAME members have been awarded to work in European light source laboratories in 2018.

OPEN SESAME is a Horizon 2020 project, which began on 1 January 2017 and runs until the end of 2019. It provides training opportunities for the SESAME light source in Jordan. An intergovernmental organisation, SESAME’s members are Cyprus, Egypt, Iran, Israel, Jordan, Pakistan, the Palestinian Authority and Turkey. This call for Fellowships was open to students working towards Masters or Doctoral degrees in the realm of light source science in any of these Members.

Some 49 applications were received. After scrutiny by an expert committee, nine places were offered, with six candidates in reserve. The successful applicants represent four SESAME Members, with two coming from Egypt and two from Iran, four are from Pakistan and one is from Turkey. Seven are women and two are men, and they will each be spending a minimum of eight weeks between February and June 2018 in European labs. Their fields of interest are all areas that will be addressed by SESAME’s phase-one beamlines, namely powder diffraction, X-ray absorption spectroscopy, infrared microspectroscopy, macromolecular crystallography and X-ray tomography. These techniques address questions ranging from life sciences where antibiotic resistance in bacteria and the interactions of essential oils and macromolecules will be investigated by single crystal diffraction, to geology where oil and gas flow properties in porous rock will be characterised by hard X-ray micro-tomography.

European synchrotron: melting pot for international students

Every year the ESRF welcomes around 100 students from all over the world.

From high-school level to post-doctoral fellows, these future professionals have chosen the ESRF to gain that practical experience so valued on a CV. Meet some of our students and find out how their experience at the ESRF is shaping their future.

Emily Galvin, Katie Mordecai and William Spencer are in various stages of a 4-year technical apprenticeship with the STFC in the UK. They have spent three weeks in the ESRF mechanical workshop on a shared project, machining prototype parts from drawings using a computer numeric tool (CNC). The parts, which have been designed in-house, will be used on a slit positioning assembly through which the light beam is concentrated on the beamline.

“The software I’m using is completely new to me and of course it’s all in French, so I’m learning fast!”, says Katie. “These CNC machines are really expensive and I’ve never been allowed to operate one before. My supervisor has been great in showing us how it works and trusting us to use it.”

>Read More