What was & will be, 2019/2020 edition

We have arrived at the end of another year, which means we’ll take a look at how we fared (or rather, how we held on through the storm). On top of that, we’ll look at the interesting things that 2020 will and could have in store for us… To be honest, this year has flown past me so fast that I haven’t really managed to keep track of everything that happened, so this’ll be as new for you as it is for me!

What worked…

In 2019, we’ve seen a massive increase in outreach; this has been so much, that I haven’t even managed to highlight them on the blog. In total, I’ve given 7 presentations (one of which is online), contributed to 7 papers (6 refereed) and 1 conference paper, and uploaded two videos. The large number of papers is mostly due to the success of the MAUS, and is set to continue throughout the next year. I’ll have a separate post highlighting the papers in the “MAUS year in review” which should come up in the next month or so.

We have also had a very nice trial of the “Better with Scattering” workshop, where we could introduce the topic to a very wide range of materials science researchers. This event is set to be repeated early next year, with the deadline for registration coming up soon. If you want to join, there are still spaces available, so drop us a line at scattering@bam.de and send us the completed registration form by the 10th of January. For us, the course was a lot of work, but formed a nice change of pace from the regular activities, and allowed us to reach a whole new audience.

A particular highlight of the year was also joining in in the organization of the canSAS meeting in Freising, although the heavy lifting for that was not done by me. The canSAS meets are always a nice opportunity to catch up with colleagues and friends, and chat about subjects close to my heart: data quality and data correction and how to achieve these practically. During the same trip I also got to join my colleagues on EXAFS beamtime at the Swiss Light Source, and experience the Swiss customs. My second trip to Switzerland had me giving an in-depth lecture on data corrections, which was recorded and put on YouTube (Both on my channel as well as Dectris’ channel), and has been viewed more than 200 times so far.

This year, I’ve also worked a lot on implementing the SciCat measurement catalog. This catalog helps us keep track of our measurements, and links them to proposals and samples. I hope to refine this a bit further in the coming year, with the help and engagement of my colleagues.

While we have done a lot of science, this comes at an environmental cost. I can estimate the CO2 (and equivalent greenhouse gases) emitted for the generation of the electricity of the MAUS. The instrument uses on average about 1.5 kW in total (the sources are only 30 and 50W, but some of the ancillary equipment is quite beefy), and this list tells us that for every kWh of electricity generated in Germany, about 0.44 kg of CO2 is emitted. That makes this year’s MAUS usage come to about 3.9 tonnes of CO2. Add to that my two flights (2x round trip, one to Switzerland (0.18 t), one to Diamond (0.3t)), the drive to Switzerland (0.4t) and we come to almost 5 tonnes. We had better make sure the science we do is worth it!

I’ve also been involved in a side project managing a laboratory with a small team and a brand new multi-photon laser structuring instrument in it (which we call the PolyPoly). With this instrument, we can write 3D structures in a resin with a voxel size of 200x200x600 nm. I hope to write a bit more about that later, but for now, I’m happy that we managed to contribute with this instrument to research from colleagues in Lübeck.

What didn’t work?

First and foremost: external funding didn’t work this year either. A quick count brings me up to eight rejections of either my own applications, or applications of colleagues I would’ve participated in. Needless to say, this weighs heavy on my mind, as it is one of the metrics used to value scientists, and the money could be well used to support a number of excellent scientists who are still on temporary contracts.

Secondly, we’d prepared a manuscript on the USAXS instrument, but this was rejected as well. The manuscript is available as a preprint here. What needs to be done before this can be resubmitted, is to prove that the instrument works in a laboratory instrument as well. Bear with me as I try to find the time to integrate the necessary hardware and software components in the control system of the MAUS, and to write some scan scripts..

I also wish I could have done more for the projects I have been (and am still) involved in. With all these managerial tasks left and right, it is very hard to find a decent chunk of time to sit down and figure things out. Especially since it’s not guaranteed that a result will be arrived at within this time, it is a risky activity to do. We’ve started last year with a weekly Shut Up and Write session, where we’re reserving two-hour time slots for writing. Hopefully that’ll bring some rest and structure into the work life.

What’s coming?

2020 promises to be an interesting year. For the first months, we’ll be busy writing papers and gearing up for the 2020 Better with Scattering workshop. This will also involve the production of several educational videos and lecture recordings, and a parallel session with Diamond’s course, so keep your eyes open for that.

Once that’s done, it’s writing time for YAFA: yet another funding application, this time a colleague has offered to help with the process, so let’s give it another shot and see what happens.

This year, we’ll also try a few more project management tools to try and organize and structure our work insofar that is possible. We now have an installation of Microsoft Teams at BAM, so we’ll see how that can be used in addition to our offline methods. What really helped last year was the use of a Signal group to keep in touch with a group of colleagues, this has made it much easier to ask quick questions and share some quick results. Best of all, it’s open-source, end-to-end encrypted and free.

Travel-wise, we have some interesting travels coming up. In particular, I’ve been co-proposer on two beamtime proposals for my favourite beamline at Diamond, so there’s at least a trip to the UK (if they will let me in after Brexit, nobody knows). In addition, I’ve been invited to give a lecture at the University of Birmingham in April, which we will also try to make available online afterwards.

Towards the end of 2020, there’s the 3rd African Synchrotron Light Source Conference in Kigali, Rwanda. If I have a chance, I’d love to come there and present some of the work we’ve been involved in, and maybe set up a collaboration or two. Here’s hoping!

Also, to try to minimize my carbon footprint, I’ll be more heavily pushing video meetings and lectures. We’ve done a few this year, and it does get easier with practice. We’ll now get some additional tools to make this a bit better still. With video meetings, you do not get all the benefits of a face-to-face meeting, but some of the information can still be brought across. I’m hopeful that we can get this integrated more easily in our work, and hope to see some good results from its use.

Lastly, I’m hoping that we all have the ability to do thorough, well-founded, and highly collaborative research in 2020, well-balanced with copious quantities of free time and leisure activities. And maybe, just maybe, we’ll come up with some earth-saving technologies in the process.

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