Category Archives: projects

Using machine learning to achieve diffraction-limited performance with x-rays deformable mirrors

In a our last paper, we present the use of machine learning to get the most of x-ray adaptive optics – and it works like magic! This was a great work accomplished by Gautam Gunjala, a grad student from UC Berkeley under a SCGSR grant, together with our wonderful colleagues from the Advanced Photon Source.

X-ray adaptive mirrors are very nice, because they allow to correct the shape of x-ray beams, when the beam gets distorted by mirror deformation or misalignment. That’s why we want to use them in the latest generation of synchrotron light source such as ALS-U or APS-U.

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Angela Saini at Berkeley Lab

We were pleased, as Berkeley Lab Global Employee Resource Group co-chairs, to invite and co-organize with Angela Saini at Berkeley Lab on November 9th, 2022.

Author Angela Saini in conversation with Aditi Chakravarti from the Diversity and Inclusion office at Berkeley Lab (IDEA)

More details about the event:

How to get the most out of a conference in person

Making the most out of a conference is a good idea! My friend Maria Zurek (former Berkeley Lab postdoc, now at Argonne) made a very interesting talk, and here are her slide:

Maria Zurek (left) and I (right) with Jeff Welser (IBM VP of research, center) and the rest of the Berkeley Lab Postdoc Association in October 2019

She gave a few great pieces of advice, here are my favorites:
– come to the conference with your slides READY. If they’re not ready, you will miss most of the social hours, where the networking happens (that’s a hard one – but very true: a conference is mostly about meeting people, not presenting your research.)

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Dream beam

I am very happy to announce that was granted en Early Career Research Award by the US Department of Energy, to work on the DREAM beam: Diffraction-limited Radiation Enhancement with Adaptive Mirrors for x-ray coherent beamlines.

Here are some news releases:

They may say I’m a dreamer, but I’m not the only one

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Scientists on screen

There isn’t much representation of scientists in popular culture, with a only few movies standing out, such as a “A Beautiful Mind” (on John Nash) or “Good Will Hunting.” There’s been a few more in the biopic genre lately, such as the “Imitation Game” on Alan Turing or “The Theory of Everything” on Stephen Hawking, and soon a movie on Robert Oppenheimer by Chris Nolan.

But the representation of women in science and technology is even less frequent. Things seem to be changing, and during the pandemic there’s been a few biopics on women scientists, to which I want to bring attention to:

(credit: @truffleduster)

All of them have been deprived of a theatrical release, and I find it a bit sad they haven’t been delayed, but perhaps there’s been increased distribution through streaming platforms.
I should also mention slightly older movies such as “Hidden Figures“, “Contact“, “Arrival” and “Interstellar” – surprisingly all about space exploration.
Why can’t we see beakers, petri dishes and lasers?


I recently read the amazing book “New Expressions in Origami Art” by Meher McArthur, that I found at the shop Paper Tree in the Japan Town of San Fransisco (it’s one of my favorite shops; they always have stunning origami on display, some for sale, from many origamists featured in the book.)

Every page of the book is a delight, where a modern twists (abstraction, wet folding, tessellation) on origami always bring something very fresh.

One Crease, by Paul Jackson

While reading the book and learning about Goran Konjevod (who seems to be a colleague from Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory), I stumbled on the work of Amanda Ghassaei, who has created the Origami Simulator and many other cool simulation tools producing mesmerizing results.

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The scourge of sargassum

I am currently on the island of Saint-Martin, in the French West Indies, about 200 miles away from Puerto Rico, because I couldn’t fly back directly from France, which is still under a Travel Ban order from the US. I have two spend at least two weeks so that I can fly back to Berkeley.

Saint Martin on the map

Walking on beach, it is sad to discover that is littered with sargassum, an invasive algae that barely existed when I was walking my dogs on the beach many years ago. This infestation is quite recent in fact, and somehow started in 2011 (see the excellent piece in The Atlantic by pre-Pulitzer Ed Yong: Why waves of seaweed have been smothering Caribbean beaches.)

Sargassum on Orient Bay, fresh and old (September 2021)

It appears that the bloom may come from the increase in nutrients carried by the Amazon river and making it to the ocean (The great Atlantic Sargassum belt.) Apparently, the problem is becoming more and more acute, and I’ve recently learned that researchers (like my colleagues at Berkeley Lab Lydia Rachbauer) are trying to find enzymes in fish that can actually digest these algae.

Because these algae float in the water, they are effectively a a mix of large floating solar panels, and a potentially a great resource of biofuels, where nothing is needed, since the nutrients are provided for free by farmers from the Amazon river. Apparently, there are companies such as C-combinator who are trying to extract the energy from these algae. I can’t really judge if the economics makes sense (harvesting the algae might be complicated, though they seem very easily visible on satellite images so that might help), but developing adequate techniques for a problem that may blow up seems a good idea.

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Welcome to Gattaca

The movie Gattaca is my favorite movie of all times. It is the story of a person born of natural ways that need to live in a society where everyone has been selected based on their genes. I think it is an absolute masterpiece, with an incredible photography, excellent actors and a very clever script, touching on very deep issues.

I got a chance to visit the place where the movie was filmed, which happens to be the Marin County Civic Center, in San Rafael, 20 minutes North of San Francisco. The place is absolutely wild.

Marin County Civic Center (botanical garden)

While it seems to be a dystopian intrigue around genetic discrimination, it is actually subtle parable for systemic racism. The movie as a whole is a discussion around the fuzzy notion of meritocracy: people are still supposedly selected on their abilities, and it is formally illegal to conduct genetic testing (extending the notion of “protected characteristics”), but this eventually is a sham. It is interesting to notice that the movie has only two black characters – the geneticist (Blair Underwood) and the interviewer (Clarence Graham) – both serving as gatekeepers, closing the door to applicants who would try to escape their condition.

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Connected papers

I’ve discovered Connected Papers and I think it’s awesome!

It’s a tool to see the connection between papers, and therefor ideal to get started in a new field or make sure you’re not missing out on some papers when you’re writing a review!


Paper connectivity map made wit Connected Papers

I’m glad to see new tools helping the conduct of science.

Bibliography management is always flaky, even if we have better tools now such as Mendeley, and overall gathering information and getting in touch with specific scientist is still pretty bad (Researchgate is not very good.) There are some interesting aspects to ORCID, though it doesn’t have the adoption levels it should have to be very useful, and AMiner provides interesting information (sorting researchers’ work by fields) but it doesn’t work flawlessly.


The upgrade of the Advanced Light Source (ALS-U), the project I’m working on, has received CD-2 approval from the US Department of Energy, meaning that we are gearing up towards final design and will soon start ordering tons of magnets and mirrors, and transform our beloved light source into a laser-like source of x-rays, to enable the next generation in batteries, solar cells, computers and medicines (among many other things:)

Advanced Light Source Upgrade Project Achieves Major Milestone

Here’s a few recent highlights from the research enabled by the little synchrotron that could:

Jennifer Doudna, chair of the Advanced Light Source Users’ Executive Committee (around 2001)

A last bit of research by my colleague Alex Frañó (and friend from the ALS Users’ Executive Committee) gets my neurons randomly firing up at night: Rethinking the fundamental way electrons interact in superconducting quantum materials. It progressively appear that skyrmions and superconductivity may be intimately related: A New Twist Reveals Superconductivity’s Secrets (Quanta magazine.) If this is true, we’re on the verge of a major shift: we could potentially engineer interfaces to create room temperature superconductivity. That would be a revolution: we could transfer power from a place to another with no loss (electrical line losses are about 50%) and we could democratize magnetic levitation for transportation.