My blog has been neglected for most of this month. Actually, much of my life has been neglected for the sake of my job. Happily, I think I have a bit more breathing space going forward.
I don’t write much about my job, but here’s the thirty second explanation of what I do and what’s been happening. I work at the Advanced Photon Source (APS) at Argonne National Laboratory. The APS is a large scientific facility often called a synchrotron – basically a big ring (over 1 km around) of magnets capable of storing a large number of circulating electrons. The electrons emit X-rays as they fly around this ring, and the APS is the brightest source of X-rays in western hemisphere. As such, scientists come from all over the place to use the X-rays for their research.
To deliver the X-rays in an efficient manner, various groups build what are known as beamlines. At the beamlines, the X-rays are tailored to the experiments of interest: chemistry, geology, physics, and so on. I work at three beamlines that are dedicated to large-molecule crystallography. Basically, scientists that visit my beamlines are trying to determine the structure of things like proteins, based on how crystals of these things diffract the X-rays. And knowing the structure is often vital to fully understanding function. In the United States, this research is often funded by the National Institutes of Health or by drug companies.
Anyway, my job is to make sure that the beamlines where I work are delivering consistently high-quality beams of X-rays and to host the scientists that visit. Additionally, I sometimes have time to do my own research, which is directed toward improving our capabilities. Which brings me to the last two weeks…
The APS has regular one-month maintenance periods three times every year. January was one of them. So at the beginning of February, it was time to get everything up and running again. This is always busy, because the time is limited. But then, I also immediately had my own experimental time. Did I mention that the facility runs around the clock? I hate all-nighters.
But that’s all behind me now, at least until April when I have experimental time again. And today, I had comp time to make up for the craziness. (Insert sigh of relaxation here.)