5 weeks and counting. . .
Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the ALS was placed in a warm shutdown on March 17, at which point all user operations stopped. This action was prompted by a “shelter-in-place” declaration from Bay Area counties, which, at the time, seemed premature to some. However, it was clear to LBNL management that this was the correct path forward, particularly for the ALS, which normally hosts about 100 users per week from around the world. I speak for the entire ALS staff when I write that we miss all of you, and hope you are healthy and safe.
For the past few weeks, the ALS has been slowly coming back to life, primarily to enable macromolecular crystallography research related to SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19. This work joins similar activities at light sources around the Department of Energy Basic Energy Sciences complex and the world. In particular, an experiment by ALS users from several institutions reported the structure of an antibody active against the first SARS virus (from 2003) complexed with a SARS-CoV-2 spike protein, and showed that the new coronavirus was also deactivated. It will take many such studies to find a robust therapy and a vaccine to end the epidemic, but the ALS is proud and excited to support that process. Researchers are also using the ALS solution SAXS (12.3.1) and cellular tomography (2.1) instruments to broaden this world-wide effort. Many thanks to all the staff, working on site and from home, who have enabled this work.
ALS and ALS-U staff are weathering this period with their typical energy and spirit, but it would be wrong to ignore the many forms of stress it is placing on them. Most are working from home efficiently on myriad tasks—training, writing papers, designing instruments for ALS and ALS-U, updating control systems and procedures, etc. We uniformly feel privileged to work for, if not at, the ALS. Still, casual conversations in a slew of recent Zoom meetings reflect a palpable sense of loss. There has been nearly 100% attendance at our weekly all-staff (Zoom) meetings. Like people around the world, ALS staff are seeking connection to their friends and colleagues—including you, the user community.
I believe a deep sort of kindness is appearing at the ALS, through the lens of a user facility now deprived of users. Where once there was an abundance of operational and research activity, there is a reinvigorated sense of purpose and inclusion that will leave its mark on the ALS for years to come. I sincerely hope similar impacts will appear in broader context across the country and world in the wake of the pandemic. What better place for this to grow than at a world class user facility serving a wonderful international community?
On that note, I encourage you to think about participating in the first virtual ALS User Meeting in August, which will present new ways to connect to friends and colleagues and celebrate the excellence and professionalism of our community.
Please be healthy and safe, and we look forward to seeing you back at the ALS, whenever that becomes possible.