Gregory Su is a postdoctoral fellow studying connections between chemistry, structure, and function in soft materials by combining experimental soft x-ray spectroscopy and scattering with ab initio calculations. Su has been at the ALS since March 2016 and works primarily with the scattering group at Beamline 220.127.116.11, the Resonant Soft X-Ray Scattering (RSoXS) Beamline.
What brought you to the ALS?
I first came to the ALS as a user at the end of 2011 when I was a relatively new graduate student at UC Santa Barbara. In fact, that first trip was to use Beamline 18.104.22.168, which had just become available to general users in 2010. It was somewhat overwhelming to keep up with everything that was going on, but fortunately the beamline scientists were extremely helpful.
In graduate school I studied organic semiconductors for applications in flexible electronics. Specifically, I was focusing on understanding morphology of thin films, so synchrotron techniques turned out to be very useful. At the time, RSoXS was emerging as a way to characterize polymers and other soft matter, making it a unique opportunity to gain exposure to synchrotron science. I traveled to the ALS several times a year, mostly to use Beamline 22.214.171.124, but I also did experiments at Beamlines 7.3.3 and 126.96.36.199. Towards the end of graduate school, I also started working with David Prendergast at the Molecular Foundry to perform complementary simulations of x-ray absorption spectroscopy. I enjoyed seeing ALS staff and users at conferences and other events, and I attended the ALS User Meetings when I was in graduate school, and was very fortunate to receive the Neville B. Smith Student Poster Award in 2015.
Being a regular user at the ALS allowed me to get to know staff, postdocs, and other users, and I knew it would be a great place to continue my scientific career as a postdoc. Now, I work with Cheng Wang at Beamline 188.8.131.52. I am continuing to use theory and experiment to understand soft materials and am also involved with work to develop in situ capabilities at our beamline.
What are you enjoying most about being at the ALS?
I really enjoy the aspects that come with being at a user facility. I am able to meet and collaborate with various groups that come from institutions all over the world. It is rewarding to be able to help, although I still have a lot to learn myself! Everyone here is friendly and supportive, which makes for a great working environment. There are many visitors, affiliates, and doctoral fellows that spend time here and this allows me to meet people with different backgrounds.
What’s challenging about working at the ALS?
Synchrotrons are focused on characterization, and that comes with challenges in other areas. It can be difficult to find ways to make materials and prepare samples, and this often requires relying on other groups to do this or getting access to different facilities. However, that also means that basically everyone here works collaboratively, which I think is beneficial overall.
Did you always know you wanted to be a scientist?
I definitely veered toward science when I was younger. My dad and quite a few of my relatives are in science as well, so that certainly helped. I am from Massachusetts, and I studied chemical engineering at UMass Amherst. However, I did my undergraduate research with a professor in the Polymer Science and Engineering Department. I did a summer REU program at MIT and spent another summer working in a lab at the Pohang University of Science and Technology in Korea. All of this helped me decide that I wanted to go to graduate school and I entered the Materials Department at UC Santa Barbara in 2010 working with professors Michael Chabinyc and Ed Kramer, both of whom regularly sent their group members to synchrotron facilities.
What do you enjoy doing in your down time?
I enjoy being outdoors, and my main hobby is rock climbing. I started on the east coast, but was able to climb outdoors more after moving to California. Once you get used to driving a good distance, there are so many well-known climbing areas available: Bishop, Yosemite, Red Rocks, and Joshua Tree, to name a few. Climbing is a lot of fun, and it is a great activity that lets you visit many beautiful places. Turns out there are quite a few ALS/LBL employees who climb!