In his spare time, John Brown likes to do photography. When asked what he takes pictures of, he responds that he "sees something he likes and takes a picture of it" (see below). For that reason, he's frequently spotted walking around Berkeley Lab with a camera hung around his neck. John usually takes black and white photos and develops them himself in the darkroom he rents. In addition to taking pictures in his free time, John has taken photographs of some of his research work. Some of those pictures have appeared in national scientific magazines.
John has been working with the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering at the University of California, Berkeley, on a project to understand how cement ages. When cement gets old, it tends to absorb water and swell, becoming weaker in the process. This swelling is thought to be why cement dams fail after a number of years. The Brazilian government is very concerned that one of its dams could potentially fail in 20 years. Samples from the FURNAS Dam in Brazil are now being studied to understand how cement ages and how the absorption of water and subsequent swelling can be prevented. With the x-ray microscope, researchers can monitor the chemical changes that take place as the cement hardens. You can see some images of chemical reactions taken with the XM-1 microscope and read bout this work in this brief abstract.
For as long as he can remember, John has wanted to be a scientist. When he was in grade school, science was becoming a "big thing." He remembers hearing bedtime stories about trains and steam shovels and playing with rocket and chemistry kits. He also says he has always been curious about how things work. John's fascination with science and what makes things work are what inspired him to enter this field.
Before working at the ALS, John worked at Berkeley Lab as part of a team researching blood cholesterol standards. His job was to make and develop new gels for determining the cholesterol content of blood. After working there for a number of years, he decided to try something else. John began working at CXRO with the x-ray microscope through the recommendation of a colleague.
John says that, to work at the ALS as a cell biologist, you need to take courses in cell biology, physics, and computer science. The cell biology knowledge is helpful for understanding and interpreting the cell images the x-ray microscope produces. Physics courses help bring a greater understanding of how a synchrotron like the ALS works and how to use the bright x rays to the greatest advantage for research. John says that a computer science background is very helpful, since the x-ray microscope is a new technology and specialized computer programs need to be created to help run it. Even if you don't have a strong computer science background, a general knowledge of computers is helpful.
John's general advice is to not let a subject be too intimidating. Learning how to do something new is not hard if you care enough to try to learn it. Any skill that is needed can always be taught.