Category Archives: science life

Updates on AI for big science

There’s a lot of things happening on the front of AI for Big Science (AI for large scale facilities, such as synchrotrons.)

The recently published DOE report in AI for Science, Energy, and Security Report provides interesting insights, and a much-needed update to the AI for Science Report of 2020.

Computing Facilities are upgrading to provide scientists the tools to engage with the latest advances in machine learning. I recently visited NERSC’s Perlmutter supercomputer, and it is LOADED with GPU for AI training.

A rack of Tesla A100 from the Perlmutter supercomputer at NERSC/Berkeley Lab

Meanwhile, companies with large computing capabilities are making interesting forays in using AI for science, for instance Meta, which is developing OpenCatalyst in collaboration with Carnegie-Mellon University, where the goal is to create AI models to speed up the study of catalysts, which are generally very computer-intensive (see the Berkeley Lab Materials Project.) Now the cool part is to verify these results using x-ray diffraction at a synchrotron facilities. Something a little similar happened with AlphaFold where newly derived structure may need to be tested with x-rays at the Advanced Light Source: Deep-Learning AI Program Accurately Predicts Key Rotavirus Protein Fold (ALS News)

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Out Of Many

Last week I was lucky to meet with Vanessa Chan, the Chief Commercialization Officer for the Department of Energy and Director of the Office of Technology Transitions. She wanted to hear what kind of hurdles when it comes to start a company (hint: a lot.) I told her that a major, overlooked issue is that you generally to be a permanent resident to start at company in the US, whereas two-thirds of postdocs are foreign nationals and on visas. There are ways to get around the requirement (such as Unshackled), but it’s a little sad not more is done to provide support to those willing and able (plus – it is a well-known trope that many US companies are founded by foreign nationals, what I tend to believe is among what sets California apart from other states and other countries, where entrepreneurship doesn’t flourish as much as expected despite many efforts)

Conversation with Vanessa Chan

In one FEL swoop

“I suppose in about fortnight we shall be told that he has been seen in San Francisco. It is an odd thing, but everyone who disappears is said to be seen at San Francisco. It must be a delightful city, and possess all the attractions of the next world.”
― Oscar Wilde, The Picture of Dorian Gray.

Lately, many of my colleagues have been leaving DOE light sources (Berkeley Lab and SLAC National Lab) to work for startup companies, and it seems that they all try to build better sources (probably based on Free Electron Lasers.)

Such companies are Tau Systems, xLight and a third one which seems to be stealth but looks light a giant black hole, given the pool of talent it managed to attract.

Good EUV sources have always been a problem, and the current solution using laser pulsed plasma, blasting 40kW of CO2 laser power onto 100um tin beads at khz rates to generate ~200W of EUV is totally crazy, but it works. Still, there must be better ways to do it, and given the unit cost of a EUV litho scanner ($200M), improving the uptime and productivity even by a few percent would be extremely valuable…

I’m wishing good luck to my colleagues going his route, this is quite exciting!

SFMOMA x Berkeley Lab: Hybrid forms

Yesterday I invited Tanya Zimbardo from the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art to give a talk at Berkeley Lab (details about the even can be found here: Hybrid Forms: Connecting Art and Science)

Tanya Zimbardo (SFMONA) at Berkeley Lab

It was quite interesting to hear her perspective on a topic which is close to my heart, and happy to hear many references to Rafael Lozano-Hemmer, who currently has the Techs-Mechs exhibition running at the Gray Area, but also quite surprising not hear anything about Jim Campbell (whose art glows atop the Salesforce building “Eye of Sauron”) or the work of Illuminate.

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Acronyms, I like acronyms!

Here are two resources that I found useful for (1) supervising researchers (SMART) and (2) mentoring scientists (TGROW)


(this is an excerpt from the Virtual Remote Mentor Guide -DOE-SC-WDTS Programs)
SMART is an acronym for a framework to help guide goal setting. It is intended to ensure that goals are planned, clear, trackable, and reachable. With SMART goals, you are more likely to achieve the goal efficiently and effectively. Below is an overview of the framework to establish SMART goals.

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1000 days

Today is the thousandth day since the start of the pandemic, and we still haven’t figured out how to hold efficient meetings online.Here’s a useful resource:

A practical guide to Remote & Hybrid Communications – Berkeley Executive Education

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The Advanced Light Source upgrade project has received the Critical Decision 3, the very last step before we start building the facility – a $590M project for the US Department of Energy.

This is a great news for the facility, which will become the brightest soft x-ray light source in the world. I have worked on this project over the last five years, designing and simulating the new feature beamlines and developing new technologies to ensure optimal performance.

Berkeley Lab news center: Advanced Light Source Upgrade Approved to Start Construction

“Wavefront Preservation in Soft X-Ray Beamlines for the Advanced Light Source Upgrade.”
Antoine Wojdyla & Kenneth A. Goldberg
Synchrotron Radiation News, 34(6), 21–26 (2021).

Penn State University (Fall 2022)

I had a great time at Penn State University, where I was positively impressed by the facilities and the people!

I mainly visited the Material Research Institute and the department of Astronomy and Astrophysics, where they are developing x-ray adaptive optics for space application together with NASA, for the Lynx project.

Millennium Science Center, Penn State University (November 2022)

Thanks Susan Trolier-McKinstry for hosting me!

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:

Alain sous tous ses Aspect

Alain Aspect just received an amply deserved Nobel prize in Physics – adding one drawing to my collection of Nobel Prize drawings

Drawing by Alain Aspect (2010)

I recall bumping on him at the cafeteria at Ecole Polytechnique back in the days, and asking him questions which he often dismissed in two sentences…

Incidentally, the last time I went there in December 2019 to visit my friend Franck Delmotte (Director of study at Institute of Optics Graduate School), he was just besides us.

Alain Aspect at the Ecole Polytechnique cafeteria on December 17, 2019