Each year, the ALS Users’ Executive Committee honors outstanding contributions to the ALS community through the Tim Renner User Services Award. Hans Bechtel, an ALS research scientist and infrared (IR) program lead, received this year’s award “for his dedication to user success, exemplified in the scientific and technical support he provides at the IR beamlines and compassion and inclusion he embodies in every interaction.”
Bechtel joined the ALS in 2007, first as a scientific engineering associate, before transitioning to a research-focused scientific role a few years ago. More recently, he was named head of the IR program, which operates three beamlines. When his supervisor, Mike Martin, was promoted to group lead for Photon Science Operations in 2018, Bechtel stepped in to manage all three beamlines single-handedly for nearly a year until Stephanie Gilbert Corder joined the ALS in May.
Receiving the Renner Award was a surprise to him, and coming from the users, it was even more meaningful. “It’s a great honor because you are constantly working and helping users, but you rarely get the feedback from the users that you are impactful,” said Bechtel.
Omar Khatib, an ALS user from the University of Colorado who co-nominated Bechtel for the award, spoke highly of his dedication and interpersonal skills. “He embodies everything it means to be beamline support staff at ALS. He is extremely patient and helpful with everyone who comes to perform measurements,” said Khatib.
Raul Freitas, a scientist at the Brazilian Synchrotron Light Laboratory, who’s also used the ALS, echoed Khatib’s praise. “During my beamtime Hans delivered essential assistance on the data acquisition and interpretation and helped us to achieve all the goals we had planned,” he said. “I am a beamline coordinator at the LNLS and I really understand Hans’s assistance as outstanding service.”
When users first arrive at the ALS, Bechtel explained that he works hard to make sure they understand how everything works, that they’re prepared to carry out their experiments safely, and that all users, from graduate students to principal investigators, are involved and feel comfortable asking questions if they’re unsure about something.
“I think a perfect user shift is one where users come prepared, knowing what they want to measure and then they are willing to ask questions when they don’t know how to do something, because then I can help them move forward,” Bechtel said. “We have different users from different backgrounds. I try to make sure that everyone is included in the conversation.”
With Bechtel putting a lot of emphasis on inclusion, it comes as no surprise that he is currently serving as the chair of the ALS inclusion, diversity, equity, and accountability (IDEA) committee. Creating an atmosphere in which users feel free to ask questions ties in with Berkeley Lab’s IDEA initiative, where psychological safety plays a big role.
Bechtel’s interpersonal skills and dedication have impacts beyond user service. “The continuing productivity and increasing popularity of the nanospectroscopy stations at ALS is due in large part to Hans’s tireless effort and user support,” Khatib added.
Samuel Johnson, another user from the University of Colorado, supported his colleagues’ sentiments. “While Hans is clearly an invaluable scientific and technical resource, he also recognizes the importance of personal connection and inclusion,” he said. “He uses his caring personality to significantly and positively affect everyone around him both in and out of the lab.”
Mengkun Liu of Stony Brook University summarized Bechtel’s impact succinctly. “Hans has great knowledge and skills which help him to solve the problems like no one can. He is very approachable and easily the most compassionate person I know—the kind of person who goes out of his way to help the users the best he can do every day (and night).”
Tim Renner was a beamline scientist at the ALS whose battle with cancer cut short a career distinguished by a caring attitude and larger-than-life personality. This award recognizes the services of people across the ALS organization who have made outstanding contributions to the ALS user community.