Doe Science news source
The DOE Science News Source is a Newswise initiative to promote research news from the Office of Science of the DOE to the public and news media.
  • 2017-12-20 13:05:01
  • Article ID: 687165

Q&A: Sam Webb Teaches X-Ray Science from a Remote Classroom

The staff scientist at the Stanford Synchrotron Radiation Lightsource discusses his research and teaching, which includes training an international group of students to conduct geobiology experiments at the synchrotron from an island about 350 miles away.

  • Credit: Chris Smith/SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory

    Usha Lingappa, Caltech graduate student (left) Sam Webb, SLAC staff scientist (center), and Woody Fischer, geobiology professor at Caltech (right) working together on an experiment at the Stanford Synchrotron Radiation Lightsource.

  • Credit: Sam Webb/SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory

    Aerial view of the University of Southern California’s Wrigley Marine Science Center on Catalina Island.

  • Credit: Dawn Harmer/SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory

    Sam Webb, staff scientist, lectures about studying the color of dinosaurs with X-rays at SLAC’s 2017 Kids’ Night.

When Sam Webb teaches, he shows that science is a part of everyday life. For him, it’s important that students learn science does not need to be intimidating. 

Webb is a staff scientist at the Stanford Synchrotron Radiation Lightsource (SSRL) at the Department of Energy’s SLAC National Acceleratory Laboratory. He started working at SSRL in the fall of 2001 as a postdoctoral researcher.

Over the years, he’s helped with the annual Kids Night at SLAC and other lab outreach events. Webb often visits local classrooms to give science lessons, from demonstrations at his daughter’s preschool to guest lectures at high schools and colleges.

Webb earned his undergraduate and master’s degree at Caltech and a PhD at Northwestern University. His commitment to teaching and strong Caltech connection recently led to a unusual development where graduate students in a geobiology course at the university can watch their X-ray experiments run at SSRL without leaving Southern California.

Q: Why do you think science students should learn X-ray techniques?

It’s one of those tool sets that’s very important for geological, biological and environmental sciences, because you can find a lot of information that you can’t get with other techniques.

You can look at the precise chemistry of samples on really small scales, all the way up to large-scale systems. So X-ray science can be useful to a lot of researchers, and they don’t always get a chance to learn how to actually do it.

Q: How did you become interested in synchrotron research?

During my PhD studies, I was working on an environmental science project that looked at contaminants in the sediments of a lake with a zinc smelter at the edge.

My advisor had never done any research at synchrotrons, but he thought if someone was motivated and wanted to learn about X-rays, it would be a good way to answer some of the questions we had about the different types of metals present in the sediments.

It was really fun to work with a big accelerator at the Advanced Photon Source (APS) at DOE’s Argonne National Laboratory. So when I was done with the project, I thought it’d be great to do some more of the same type of research.

Q: Tell me more about the course you co-taught at Caltech.

It’s a 5-week intensive course where the students do a few weeks of field work and collect different types of samples including rock, sediment and DNA. They also analyze those samples in the lab. The goal of the course is to learn how to look at the relationships between geology and what’s living on Earth.

We’ve taught a variety of techniques, such as taking thin slices of rock samples, extracting DNA and lipids, and doing electron microscopy. This year we thought it would be cool to add synchrotron X-ray methods, because that might not be something a student would be exposed to in a typical geobiology course.

There were about 20 students taking the course this past year. Because it was too difficult to get all the students up to Northern California from the Los Angeles area, we decided to operate the synchrotron remotely from Southern California.

Q: How did that work, exactly?

I went down to Santa Catalina Island, where part of the course takes place at the University of Southern California’s Wrigley Marine Science Center. While I was there, I could run the SSRL beamline from my computer in a lecture hall setting. We had a postdoctoral researcher at SSRL helping us actually put the samples in front of the beam, so we could analyze the students’ samples remotely.

The students did some preliminary work in advance to figure out what they wanted to know, and we would discuss what we might be able to get with the technique. We then looked at the results together as they came out in real time from the beamline. It was a lot like doing three days of actual beam time; we just weren’t at SSRL. Many of the samples came from areas of interest in California – such as Mono Lake and the Monterey Formation. We used the X-rays to study the relationships between microbiology and the rock record, both in terms of current processes and those that may have happened millions of years ago.

Q: When did you start using X-rays for geobiology research?

Woody Fischer – a geobiology professor at Caltech – had called me out of the blue. Someone had suggested that he contact me if he was interested in examining manganese in rocks. Over the phone, we talked about X-ray techniques and what we could do with them, and then I invited him to come up for some of my beam time during the following week. It all worked really well, and we wrote up a proposal for some additional time at SSRL, and we’ve been working together ever since.

We started with the chemistry of manganese in rocks that are 2.5 billion years old. This is around the time that oxygen started building up in Earth’s atmosphere, produced by ancient bacteria that used manganese-containing enzymes for photosynthesis. The manganese records in these rocks helped us hypothesize that there may have been cyanobacteria that could do photosynthesis linked to the manganese cycle before they evolved the ability to evolve oxygen. We’ve also started looking at iron-sulfur cycles within early Earth. And we’re continuing to look at manganese in meteorites, as well as samples from Earth in the form of desert varnish – a dark coating of minerals and elements that can form on rocks found in extremely dry climates. So we’re focusing on geobiology in both modern and ancient systems, here on Earth and in extraterrestrial environments.

Q: What are some of the challenges with investigating these types of samples?

Some of these rocks are more than 2 billion years old, so a lot can happen in that time. It takes quite a bit of careful work to look at the relationships within the rock on a microscale. We want to understand how it might have changed and when, to avoid the pitfalls of making conclusions based on something that happened at a different time in a rock’s history.

Q: Do you often run the beamlines from a remote location?

Not usually, because it’s helpful to be able to see what you’re working on. But this sort of remote access allows us to support and troubleshoot four beamlines with our limited staff of two or three people.

This is the first time we’ve used remote access in a course setting. It was a lot of fun and the students seemed excited to find ways to apply the newly learned technique to their research.

Some of the results are really interesting, and we’ll try to publish those findings. So there’s some real science that will come out of the project, as well. 

SSRL and APS are DOE Office of Science user facilities.


SLAC is a multi-program laboratory exploring frontier questions in photon science, astrophysics, particle physics and accelerator research. Located in Menlo Park, Calif., SLAC is operated by Stanford University for the U.S. Department of Energy's Office of Science. For more information, please visit slac.stanford.edu.

SLAC National Accelerator 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, please visit science.energy.gov.

X
X
X
  • Filters

  • × Clear Filters

Relax, Just Break It

Argonne scientists and their collaborators are helping to answer long-held questions about a technologically important class of materials called relaxor ferroelectrics.

Putting Bacteria to Work

Bacteria are diverse and complex creatures that are demonstrating the ability to communicate organism-to-organism and even interact with the moods and perceptions of their hosts (human or otherwise). Scientists call this behavior "bacterial cognition," a systems biology concept that treats these microscopic creatures as beings that can behave like information processing systems.

New Computer Model Predicts How Fracturing Metallic Glass Releases Energy at the Atomic Level

Metallic glasses are an exciting research target for tantalizing applications; however, the difficulties associated with predicting how much energy these materials release when they fracture is slowing down development of metallic glass-based products. Recently, researchers developed a way of simulating to the atomic level how metallic glasses behave as they fracture. This modeling technique could improve computer-aided materials design and help researchers determine the properties of metallic glasses. The duo reports their findings in the Journal of Applied Physics.

The Relationship Between Charge Density Waves and Superconductivity? It's Complicated.

For a long time, physicists have tried to understand the relationship between a periodic pattern of conduction electrons called a charge density wave (CDW), and another quantum order, superconductivity, or zero electrical resistance, in the same material. Do they compete? Co-exist? Co-operate? Do they go their separate ways?

Splitting Water: Nanoscale Imaging Yields Key Insights

In the quest to realize artificial photosynthesis to convert sunlight, water, and carbon dioxide into fuel - just as plants do - researchers need to not only identify materials to efficiently perform photoelectrochemical water splitting, but also to understand why a certain material may or may not work. Now scientists at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory have pioneered a technique that uses nanoscale imaging to understand how local, nanoscale properties can affect a material's macroscopic performance.

Feeding Plants to This Algae Could Fuel Your Car

The research shows that a freshwater production strain of microalgae, Auxenochlorella protothecoides, is capable of directly degrading and utilizing non-food plant substrates, such as switchgrass, for improved cell growth and lipid productivity, useful for boosting the algae's potential value as a biofuel.

No More Zigzags: Scientists Uncover Mechanism That Stabilizes Fusion Plasmas

Article describes simulation of physics behind elimination of sawtooth instabilities.

Solutions to Water Challenges Reside at the Interface

Leading Argonne National Laboratory researcher Seth Darling describes the most advanced research innovations that could address global clean water accessibility.

New Cost-Effective Instrument Measures Molecular Dynamics on a Picosecond Timescale

Studying the photochemistry has shown that ultraviolet radiation can set off harmful chemical reactions in the human body and, alternatively, can provide "photo-protection" by dispersing extra energy. To better understand the dynamics of these photochemical processes, a group of scientists irradiated the RNA base uracil with ultraviolet light and documented its behavior on a picosecond timescale. They discuss their work this week in The Journal of Chemical Physics.

Exploding Waves from Colliding Dissipative Pulses

The interaction of traveling waves in dissipative systems, physical systems driven by energy dissipation, can yield unexpected and sometimes chaotic results. These waves, known as dissipative pulses are driving experimental studies in a variety of areas that involve matter and energy flows. In the journal Chaos, researchers discuss their work studying collisions between three types of DSs to determine what happens when these traveling waves interact.


  • Filters

  • × Clear Filters

Professor Miao Yu Named the Priti and Mukesh Chatter '82 Career Development Professor

Miao Yu, associate professor in the Howard P. Isermann Department of Chemical and Biological Engineering at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, has been named the Priti and Mukesh Chatter Career Development Professor. His research focuses on developing advanced nanomaterials for energy and environmental applications.

Funding for New DOE Energy Frontier Research Center at Brookhaven Lab

UPTON, NY--The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) has announced funding for a new Energy Frontier Research Center (EFRC) to be led by DOE's Brookhaven National Laboratory. The Brookhaven EFRC, named "Molten Salts in Extreme Environments," will focus on understanding the properties of a class of materials with potential applications in energy technologies--particularly in nuclear power.

Two Stony Brook Researchers Receive Energy Frontier Research Center Awards Totaling $21.75M

Stony Brook University received notification from the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) that two proposals directed by SBU faculty to expand or develop Energy Frontier Research Centers (EFRCs) designed to accelerate scientific breakthroughs needed to strengthen U.S. economic leadership and energy security will receive funding totaling $21.75 million. The two Stony Brook EFRCs are the Center for Mesoscale Transport Properties (m2M), led by renowned energy storage researcher, Esther Takeuchi, PhD, which will receive a four-year $12 million grant for the existing center; and the creation of a new EFRC, A Next Generation Synthesis Center (GENESIS) led by John Parise, PhD, which will receive a four-year $9.75 million grant.

Seth Davidovits Wins 2018 Marshall N. Rosenbluth Dissertation Award

Article describes dissertation award won by Seth Davidovits.

DOE Launches New Lab Partnering Service

The U.S. Department of Energy officially launched the Lab Partnering Service (LPS), an on-line, single access point platform for investors, innovators, and institutions to identify, locate, and obtain information from DOE's 17 national laboratories.

Department of Energy Announces $75 Million for High Energy Physics Research

The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) announced $75 million in funding for 77 university research awards on a range of topics in high energy physics to advance knowledge of how the universe works at its most fundamental level.

Thesis Prize Winner's Calculations Characterize Neutrino Interactions

Alessandro Baroni is helping demystify one of the most mysterious particles. His work is contributing to our understanding of neutrinos, and it has earned him the 2017 Jefferson Science Associates Thesis Prize for work performed on a thesis related to research at the Department of Energy's Thomas Jefferson National Accelerator Facility

10 Questions for Steven Cowley, New Director of the Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory

Steven Cowley, a theoretical physicist and international authority on fusion energy, became the seventh Director of the Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory (PPon July 1 and will be Princeton professor of astrophysical sciences on September 1.

Ames Laboratory to lead new Center for Advancement of Topological Semimetals

Ames Laboratory will receive $10.75 million over four yearrs for a new Center for Advancement of Topological Semimetals as one of the Department of Energy's Energy Frontier Research Centers.

DOE Awards $100 Million for Energy Frontier Research Centers

U.S. Secretary of Energy Rick Perry announced $100 million in funding for 42 Energy Frontier Research Centers (EFRCs) to accelerate the scientific breakthroughs needed to strengthen U.S. economic leadership and energy security.


  • Filters

  • × Clear Filters

Steering Light with Dynamic Lens-on-MEMS

Scientists add active control to design capabilities for new lightweight flat optical devices.

Sugar-Coated Sheets Selectively Target Pathogens

Researchers design self-assembling nanosheets that mimic the surface of cells.

Tracking Down Helium-4's Quarks and Gluons

Scientists obtain the first exclusive measurement of deeply virtual Compton scattering of electrons off helium-4, vital to obtaining an unambiguous 3-D view of quarks and gluons within nuclei.

Predicting Magnetic Explosions: From Plasma Current Sheet Disruption to Fast Magnetic Reconnection

Supercomputer simulations and theoretical analysis shed new light on when and how fast reconnection occurs.

Is Nature Exclusively Left Handed? Using Chilled Atoms to Find Out

Elegant techniques of trapping and polarizing atoms open vistas for beta-decay tests of fundamental symmetries, key to understanding the most basic forces and particles constituting our universe.

As Future Batteries, Hybrid Supercapacitors Are Super-Charged

A new supercapacitor could be a competitive alternative to lithium-ion batteries.

Forever Young Catalyst Reduces Diesel Emissions

Atom probe tomography reveals key explanations for stable performance over a cutting-edge diesel-exhaust catalyst's lifetime.

Sense Like a Shark: Saltwater-Submersible Films

A nickelate thin film senses electric field changes analogous to the electroreception sensing organ in sharks, which detects the bioelectric fields of prey.

A Bit of Quantum Logic--What Did the Atom Say to the Quantum Dot?

Let's talk! Scientists demonstrate coherent coupling between a quantum dot and a donor atom in silicon, vital for moving information inside quantum computers.

New Tech Uses Isomeric Beams to Study How and Where the Galaxy Makes One of Its Most Common Elements

A new measurement using a beam of aluminum-26 prepared in a metastable state allows researchers to better understand the creation of the elements in our galaxy.


Spotlight

Thursday July 19, 2018, 05:00 PM

Professor Miao Yu Named the Priti and Mukesh Chatter '82 Career Development Professor

Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI)

Tuesday July 03, 2018, 11:05 AM

2018 RHIC & AGS Annual Users' Meeting: 'Illuminating the QCD Landscape'

Brookhaven National Laboratory

Friday June 29, 2018, 06:05 PM

Argonne welcomes The Martian author Andy Weir

Argonne National Laboratory

Monday June 18, 2018, 09:55 AM

Creating STEM Knowledge and Innovations to Solve Global Issues Like Water, Food, and Energy

Illinois Mathematics and Science Academy (IMSA)

Friday June 15, 2018, 10:00 AM

Professor Emily Liu Receives $1.8 Million DoE Award for Solar Power Systems Research

Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI)

Thursday June 07, 2018, 03:05 PM

Celebrating 40 years of empowerment in science

Argonne National Laboratory

Monday May 07, 2018, 10:30 AM

Introducing Graduate Students Across the Globe to Photon Science

Brookhaven National Laboratory

Wednesday May 02, 2018, 04:05 PM

Students from Massachusetts and Washington Win DOE's 28th National Science Bowl(r)

Department of Energy, Office of Science

Thursday April 12, 2018, 07:05 PM

The Race for Young Scientific Minds

Argonne National Laboratory

Wednesday March 14, 2018, 02:05 PM

Q&A: Al Ashley Reflects on His Efforts to Diversify SLAC and Beyond

SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory

Thursday February 15, 2018, 12:05 PM

Insights on Innovation in Energy, Humanitarian Aid Highlight UVA Darden's Net Impact Week

University of Virginia Darden School of Business

Friday February 09, 2018, 11:05 AM

Ivy League Graduate, Writer and Activist with Dyslexia Visits CSUCI to Reframe the Concept of Learning Disabilities

California State University, Channel Islands

Wednesday January 17, 2018, 12:05 PM

Photographer Adam Nadel Selected as Fermilab's New Artist-in-Residence for 2018

Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory (Fermilab)

Wednesday January 17, 2018, 12:05 PM

Fermilab Computing Partners with Argonne, Local Schools for Hour of Code

Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory (Fermilab)

Wednesday December 20, 2017, 01:05 PM

Q&A: Sam Webb Teaches X-Ray Science from a Remote Classroom

SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory

Monday December 18, 2017, 01:05 PM

The Future of Today's Electric Power Systems

Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI)

Monday December 18, 2017, 12:05 PM

Supporting the Development of Offshore Wind Power Plants

Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI)

Tuesday October 03, 2017, 01:05 PM

Stairway to Science

Argonne National Laboratory

Thursday September 28, 2017, 12:05 PM

After-School Energy Rush

Argonne National Laboratory

Thursday September 28, 2017, 10:05 AM

Bringing Diversity Into Computational Science Through Student Outreach

Brookhaven National Laboratory

Thursday September 21, 2017, 03:05 PM

From Science to Finance: SLAC Summer Interns Forge New Paths in STEM

SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory

Thursday September 07, 2017, 02:05 PM

Students Discuss 'Cosmic Opportunities' at 45th Annual SLAC Summer Institute

SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory

Thursday August 31, 2017, 05:05 PM

Binghamton University Opens $70 Million Smart Energy Building

Binghamton University, State University of New York

Wednesday August 23, 2017, 05:05 PM

Widening Horizons for High Schoolers with Code

Argonne National Laboratory

Saturday May 20, 2017, 12:05 PM

Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute Graduates Urged to Embrace Change at 211th Commencement

Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI)

Monday May 15, 2017, 01:05 PM

ORNL, University of Tennessee Launch New Doctoral Program in Data Science

Oak Ridge National Laboratory

Friday April 07, 2017, 11:05 AM

Champions in Science: Profile of Jonathan Kirzner

Department of Energy, Office of Science

Wednesday April 05, 2017, 12:05 PM

High-Schooler Solves College-Level Security Puzzle From Argonne, Sparks Interest in Career

Argonne National Laboratory

Tuesday March 28, 2017, 12:05 PM

Champions in Science: Profile of Jenica Jacobi

Department of Energy, Office of Science

Friday March 24, 2017, 10:40 AM

Great Neck South High School Wins Regional Science Bowl at Brookhaven Lab

Brookhaven National Laboratory

Wednesday February 15, 2017, 04:05 PM

Middle Schoolers Test Their Knowledge at Science Bowl Competition

Argonne National Laboratory

Friday January 27, 2017, 04:00 PM

Haslam Visits ORNL to Highlight State's Role in Discovering Tennessine

Oak Ridge National Laboratory

Tuesday November 08, 2016, 12:05 PM

Internship Program Helps Foster Development of Future Nuclear Scientists

Oak Ridge National Laboratory

Friday May 13, 2016, 04:05 PM

More Than 12,000 Explore Jefferson Lab During April 30 Open House

Thomas Jefferson National Accelerator Facility

Monday April 25, 2016, 05:05 PM

Giving Back to National Science Bowl

Ames Laboratory

Friday March 25, 2016, 12:05 PM

NMSU Undergrad Tackles 3D Particle Scattering Animations After Receiving JSA Research Assistantship

Thomas Jefferson National Accelerator Facility

Tuesday February 02, 2016, 10:05 AM

Shannon Greco: A Self-Described "STEM Education Zealot"

Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory

Monday November 16, 2015, 04:05 PM

Rare Earths for Life: An 85th Birthday Visit with Mr. Rare Earth

Ames Laboratory

Tuesday October 20, 2015, 01:05 PM

Meet Robert Palomino: 'Give Everything a Shot!'

Brookhaven National Laboratory

Tuesday April 22, 2014, 11:30 AM

University of Utah Makes Solar Accessible

University of Utah

Wednesday March 06, 2013, 03:40 PM

Student Innovator at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute Seeks Brighter, Smarter, and More Efficient LEDs

Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI)

Friday November 16, 2012, 10:00 AM

Texas Tech Energy Commerce Students, Community Light up Tent City

Texas Tech University

Wednesday November 23, 2011, 10:45 AM

Don't Get 'Frosted' Over Heating Your Home This Winter

Temple University

Wednesday July 06, 2011, 06:00 PM

New Research Center To Tackle Critical Challenges Related to Aircraft Design, Wind Energy, Smart Buildings

Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI)

Friday April 22, 2011, 09:00 AM

First Polymer Solar-Thermal Device Heats Home, Saves Money

Wake Forest University

Friday April 15, 2011, 12:25 PM

Like Superman, American University Will Get Its Energy from the Sun

American University

Thursday February 10, 2011, 05:00 PM

ARRA Grant to Help Fund Seminary Building Green Roof

University of Chicago





Showing results

0-4 Of 2215