Editor's note: this article was originally posted on Argonne National Laboratory's website.

With the goal of enabling faculty from minority-serving institutions to conduct research at advanced scientific facilities, the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE)’s Argonne National Laboratory collaborated with the Interdisciplinary Consortium for Research and Educational Access in Science and Engineering (InCREASE), a group dedicated to promoting research and education in minority-serving institutions. Together, Argonne and InCREASE hosted a virtual User Facilities Awareness Workshop on Nov. 12, 2020. This workshop brought together researchers from across the lab and research-focused faculty from minority-serving institutions with the objective of increasing their awareness and involvement with DOE-funded User Facilities.

During the course of the workshop, attendees learned how to conduct research at four DOE Office of Science User Facilities at Argonne: the Advanced Photon Source (APS), the Advanced Protein Characterization Facility (APCF), the Center for Nanoscale Materials (CNM), and the Argonne Leadership Computing Facility (ALCF). Together, these four powerful scientific facilities at Argonne support the research of some 8,000 scientists around the world every year.

“We’re excited to work with InCREASE, which will help us build up innovative collaborations with underrepresented groups and achieve even more pivotal discoveries,” said Stephen Streiffer, Argonne Deputy Laboratory Director for Science and Technology and interim director of the APS. ​“Learning about our world-class facilities is just the start. Ultimately, science is really driven by people and the next generation. That’s why we’re establishing these partnerships that unlock new science frontiers and move our technology enterprise forward.”

To build interest in conducting work at the lab’s user facilities, speakers from Argonne described the amazing capabilities of Argonne’s technology. For instance, they noted that the APS is one of the world’s leading facilities for experiments using high-energy X-rays, with 65 beamlines that can each be operated independently and simultaneously.

“The interesting thing about X-rays is that they can be used for research in almost all scientific disciplines — physical sciences, the life sciences, industrial applied research, earth and planetary sciences, and even cultural heritage experiments,” explained Dennis Mills, deputy associate laboratory director for Photon Sciences. ​“So, it really covers the breadth of the sciences.”

Among many other projects, the APS currently works with the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to help address the COVID-19 pandemic by using structural biology and protein characterization to study the virus’s proteins.

Andrzej Joachimiak, director of the Structural Biology Center and co-director of the Center for Structural Genomics of Infectious Diseases (CSGID), emphasized the lab’s groundbreaking advances in structural biology. ​“The APCF changed the way structural biology is being done,” Joachimiak said, referring to a pipeline that has significantly improved the efficiency of structural biology research. ​“When I was a postdoc some 30 years ago, it took us two years to determine the structure of a small protein. Here at Argonne, you can get the initial structure in a few minutes.”

As a supercomputing facility dedicated to open science, the ALCF provides remote access to its powerful systems, enabling researchers from academia, industry and government agencies to carry out their computational work from anywhere in the world. The facility hosts and participates in several training and outreach activities designed to help new users get started on its leadership computing systems.

“We are constantly working to grow the community of researchers who can use our supercomputers to advance science,” said Jini Ramprakash, deputy director of the ALCF. ​“Argonne’s continued partnership with InCREASE is a key part of our commitment to creating a diverse and inclusive research environment at the ALCF and beyond.”

At the CNM, one of DOE’s five Nanoscale Science Research Centers, the staff have a unique model of user support, balancing user needs with staff scientific research and instrumentation development that enhances the user experience. With more than 100 tools available to users, CNM scientists work directly with them to build relationships, teach them how to use the tools, and advance nanoscience and nanotechnology.

“The CNM represents an important component of workforce development for young researchers across the nation,” said CNM director Ilke Arslan. ​“Our user facility provides instrumentation, training and resources that are particularly important for faculty, students and postdocs from minority-serving institutions that may not have the same equipment as major universities, thereby creating more equal opportunities and competitiveness for all researchers in the next stages of their careers.”

CNM associate director Katie Carrado Gregar stressed, ​“We encourage you to contact CNM scientists to discuss your scientific ideas. They’re the ones who know which capabilities are best for you, how much time is reasonable to request, and how best to frame your proposal application for a successful review.”

Argonne user facilities provide open, free access to scientists for experiments intended to result in public research, after the scientists go through the peer-reviewed proposal processes. Speakers at the InCREASE workshop provided guidance on how outside scientists and institutions can successfully apply for access to the user facilities, urging them to make the most of the opportunity.

For research faculty from minority-serving institutions looking to participate in partnership research, the DOE Visiting Faculty Program (VFP) opens up new opportunities for those researchers to spend a summer co-leading a research project with a laboratory researcher. The VFP allows faculty members from such institutions to conduct research at one of participating 16 DOE laboratories (including Argonne) for up to 10 weeks.

During the workshop, Eugene Mananga, an assistant professor at the City University of New York, spoke highly of his time in the VFP at Argonne. ​“This program is very important for faculty, because in addition to performing research, it supports the opportunity to seek future funding for major grants,” he said. ​“I’m encouraging assistant professors to apply for this program.”

Participants from minority-serving institutions attending the virtual workshop expressed great interest in Argonne’s one-of-a-kind user facilities and the opportunities for collaborative science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) research.

“I’d like to thank the leadership here at Argonne for hosting this workshop. Our goal is to get as many people knowledgeable about the laboratories as we can, so it’s extremely important,” said InCREASE president Sekazi Mtingwa, who is also a fellow of the American Physical Society, the American Association for the Advancement of Science and the National Society of Black Physicists.

“We are delighted that so many faculty from different minority-serving institutions are currently collaborating with our scientists at the lab, and we look forward to building even more lasting partnerships,” said Argonne educational programs and outreach manager Meridith Bruozas.

This work was supported in part by the U.S. Department of Energy, Office of Science, Office of Workforce Development for Teachers and Scientists (WDTS).

Nathan Schmidt
Nathan Schmidt works at Argonne National Laboratory
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