As a light source user, Alex Frano loves the camaraderie of beamtime, and he is excited to build on that sense of scientific collegiality as this year’s Users’ Executive Committee chair. You may have seen him on the experimental floor or at the User Meeting, but do you know his secret talent?
What do you do in your day job?
I am an assistant professor of physics at UC San Diego. I’m an experimental condensed matter researcher, so my research operation is conducted in two facets. On the one side, we have sample growth and characterization. We grow materials, namely strongly correlated electronic materials. In particular, we’re focused on growing thin films and heterostructures of these materials. We also grow some single crystals as well, and then we characterize some of their properties here in the lab. The other aspect of the work is to characterize some of their properties at the synchrotrons. I usually perform experiments related to resonant scattering or absorption of x-rays. A lot of my experiments have to do with elastic or inelastic scattering tuned to the edges of these transition metals. I’m a very wide-ranging light source user—I go to the ALS, SSRL, LCLS, and APS.
Right now, with ALS-U, there’s definitely momentum. You see instrumentation that is being built that will tap into the coherent aspect of the beam of the upgrade. You see those things taking place right before your eyes.
How did you get into synchrotron-related work?
When I started working as a grad student in research, my advisor was growing interested in x-ray scattering. I was sent to another city to conduct my experiments. My advisor was in Stuttgart, Germany, and I was sent to Berlin, Germany, to the BESSY synchrotron. I had two amazing advantages. One is that Berlin is a very great place to live in. And the other advantage is that I was at the synchrotron where I could conduct endless experiments and try crazy things.
And so, the idea of a largescale facility with state-of-the-art capabilities and outstanding scientists working there, all of these things come together to conduct an experiment that essentially you designed, and then you work on it as a team—this captures almost all of the elements of scientific research that I admire. Teamwork, trying really complicated things, patience. Synchrotron science is a little bit slower than lab-based science because you have to wait for beamtime, but that forces you to really think about your experiments. And then, the sort of adventure aspect—you go to a place and you set up camp and it becomes a sort of a retreat with your colleagues, where you just sit there and try to get it done. All of those things really fascinate me in terms of what you can do and how you can do it.
How did you get involved in the UEC?
I’ve always been intrigued by the logistical aspect of how a synchrotron works. And I’m fascinated by the idea of the user model, the proposal model; it highlights scientific collegiality at its best. I was a user for a long time and at some point, I was offered to be part of the UEC. Somebody thought of me and asked if I would be interested in running, and I hadn’t thought of it, to be honest. I read a little bit and decided to run for office, and one thing led to another, and we organized the User Meeting. As I get more involved, I keep getting more intrigued as to understanding and helping this model of users and facility interacting to do good science.
Most users realize that the UEC organizes the User Meeting, and I knew that as well. What I didn’t know is that we try to facilitate communication between the ALS and the user community. So for instance, if I had ideas about, or concerns about something, as a user I probably would remain quiet, not even do anything. But knowing what the UEC does, now I at least understand who I could talk to if there was an issue. So to other users, I’d say: know that there is a committee that is exactly meant for this reason and we’re here to help. Users should know that they matter, and their concerns are important.
Something we worked on the last couple of years was to add a tutorial component to the User Meeting, so that students could not only listen to what other researchers are doing that are similar or related to their research, but rather come up with or imagine new ideas completely because they understood a technique that they may not have thought of beforehand. So the idea of getting students closer to the ALS was a victory for the UEC.
What do you like to do in your free time?
When I’m not going to the synchrotron? I enjoy music quite a bit, and I’m a hobbyist composer of electronic music. I do that a home—set up my computer, compose music, and play some instruments. I like to go to concerts quite a bit. Recently, I went to a Gramatik show.