|December 3rd, 2004|
Fermilab’s Future in Pier Oddone’s Hands
Pier Oddone and his future home at Wilson Hall at Fermilab.
“I’m not expecting this job to be easy; I know it will be hard, but it is an opportunity to get back to the scientific field that I love at a very exciting time,” said Berkeley Lab Deputy Director for Scientific Programs Piermaria Oddone in response to the question about why he would make such a major move at this stage of his career. After 30 years with this laboratory — nearly half that time as deputy director — Oddone will be leaving to become the director of the Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory (Fermilab). His new appointment takes effect July 1, 2005.
“We’re living in a time of remarkable opportunity for particle physics,” Oddone says. “The next few years will bring a revolution in our understanding of the universe. As one of the world’s great physics laboratories, Fermilab will make vital contributions to the discoveries ahead, and I am excited and honored to lead this unique laboratory during such an extraordinary era.”
Fermilab’s announcement on Nov. 19 naming Oddone as their next director when current director, Michael Witherell, steps down in June, brings about a complete change in the top leadership of Berkeley Lab. First came the appointment of Steve Chu to succeed Charles Shank as director in August of this year. Then came the announcement on Nov. 4 that Sally Benson, the Lab’s deputy director for Operations, would step down effective Feb. 1, 2005. Nonetheless, the Fermilab announcement was heartily endorsed by both Chu and Shank.
“I congratulate Pier on this splendid opportunity to lead Fermilab,” Chu said. “Pier has distinguished himself throughout the country for his excellent scientific judgment and leadership skills. He is also a person of warmth and humanity. I am delighted for both him and Fermilab, and I am sure he will be an excellent lab director.”
Said Shank, who appointed Oddone to the deputy director position in 1989, “Berkeley Lab owes a great debt to Pier for all he has done. His hands can be found on virtually every success this lab has had during the last decade and a half. I am thrilled for Fermilab and the field of particle physics to have a person of such distinction leading the country’s premier high energy physics laboratory.”
Although he will be leaving the Berkeley Lab staff, Oddone expects to remain connected to his former lab through collaborations with his new lab. “Fermilab and Berkeley Lab have done great things together in the past as partners, and we will be doing great things together in the future,” he says. “I am very optimistic for the futures of both laboratories.”
Prior to becoming deputy director here, Oddone served as director of the Physics Division. His greatest claim to scientific fame was his conception of an asymmetric particle accelerator that became known as the B Factory. For this breakthrough, he was recently awarded the 2005 W. K. H. Panofsky Prize in experimental particle physics by the American Physical Society.
High energy physics has remained Oddone’s first scientific love, and in talking about the move to Fermilab, he stressed his desire to contribute to this field at a pivotal point in history. He sees his time here overseeing all scientific programs, as a real advantage.
“Thanks to the experiences I have had these past 15 years across all of the scientific disciplines, I have a much better understanding of the various scientific communities outside of high-energy physics, which is important, because at Fermilab, we will need their support for our future projects.”
Fermilab is located in Batavia, Illinois, about 45 miles west of Chicago. It has a staff of about 2,200 and an annual budget in excess of $300 million. The research there is almost exclusively high-energy physics performed on the mighty Tevatron, a four miles in circumference particle accelerator that is the world’s reigning champion for producing high-energy collisions between protons and their anti-matter counterparts. Founded in 1967, Fermilab, like Berkeley Lab, is a U.S. Department of Energy national laboratory. It is operated by the Universities Research Association, Inc., a consortium of 90 research universities.
With the Tevatron performing better than ever, Fermilab still has a few more years at the top of the high-energy field. As for its future, Oddone has big dreams. He sees Fermilab as host to the premier experiment in flavor physics and possibly neutrino physics as well. He also expects Fermilab researchers to have major roles in the Large Hadron Collider (LHC), which is being built in Europe at the CERN facility.
“If our efforts are successful, our future may also include a new global facility at the energy frontier to complement the LHC,” he says.
Oddone would very much like to see the International Linear Collider be built in Illinois. While being named Fermilab’s next director is a humbling thought, he says, “I am not humble about Fermilab and Fermilab’s capabilities to achieve a brilliant future.”
Director Seeks Culture Change to Ensure Safety at Berkeley Lab
By now, most Berkeley Lab employees have heard about the laser eye injury that shut down Los Alamos National Lab for weeks during the ensuing investigation and training — and some parts are still closed. Or about the recent electrical accident at the Stanford Linear Accelerator Center that left one man critically injured and the facility’s operations halted.
It’s those types of incidents that give Laboratory directors like Steve Chu nightmares. So two weeks ago, Chu called together leaders and staff from every division at the Lab to deliver words of caution and a plea for safety.
“We have to change the culture here to incorporate safety into everything we do,” he told an audience of about 150 in the Building 50 auditorium. “It’s the kind of culture where we begin to look out for each other — fellow employees, contract workers, students, and guests. We should feel comfortable, if we see someone in a dangerous situation, to say, ‘Stop, you can hurt yourself,’ and for the person to respond by saying, ‘Thanks’.”
In fact, Chu told the group, among the Department of Energy’s science laboratories, Berkeley has one of the best safety records in two benchmark areas: total recordable cases and days away, restricted or transferred (DART) due to accidents. But, he added, “We still have to improve. We now meet the Office of Science director’s standard for safety statistics, which is to be in the upper 25 percent of comparable industrial companies, but the Office of Science wants to raise this standard.”
Chu recalled a day in his Stanford laboratory when one of his students left an open unlabeled beaker of “piranna etch,” a very corrosive cleaning solution, inside a community fume hood. When the other students found out about it, they were all over that person because his actions represented a risk to all of them. That’s what happens in a culture of safety.
A lot of this involves common sense. “I myself have tried to reach something high by standing on a chair with wheels,” he confessed. “We all want to do a job quickly and effectively, sometimes without doing a risk-benefit analysis, because it’s easy. I would argue that taking that extra five to ten minutes to think about how to do something right is actually more cost effective than ‘full speed ahead, think later.’”
Chu also urged the audience not to hide accident reporting. “Once people become afraid of reporting accidents for fear of getting themselves or fellow workers in trouble, we can really get into trouble,” he said.
He related an incident in 1987, when he was working at KEK, the high energy physics lab in Japan. He was conducting a laser experiment used to measure the energy levels of muonium, an atom consisting of a muon and an electron. One week before beam time, it was discovered that the chilled water could not be used directly to cool a large laser.
“We needed a 100-kilowatt heat exchanger,” he recalled. “Unable to buy an exchanger in time, I decided to make my own exchanger out of a bundle of copper tubes sheathed in a larger stainless steel tube. While machining the stainless steel parts, I cut one of my fingers. I ignored the cut, but after a day or two, I was in a hospital where the doctors were talking about ‘necrotic’ conditions developing and blood poisoning. I could have lost my finger, or worse. The take-home lesson from my experience is to seek prompt first aid.”
Chu reminded his audience that safety consciousness should be viewed as a positive thing. The culture has been changing throughout the world only in the last decade. “It used to be, 100 years ago, that injuries would be tolerated; if you were building a bridge or a tall building, you would expect a certain number of people to die. We’ve come a long way from those days. Today, no one is expected to be injured at work, either by a sudden trauma or by long-term exposures.”
When he was a graduate student at Cal in the 1970s, Chu said he rooted around in junk piles for old capacitors in the Lab’s “Old Town,” some of them leaking carcinogenic oil. And after a day of handling dye lasers, he would go home with his arms covered with carcinogenic compounds.
“I didn’t know better. Now we tell our young scientists, ‘You should really use gloves when you deal with this stuff’,” he said.
He likened a strong safety culture to a family’s personal responsibility to each other. “If our spouse, son or daughter was doing something that was unsafe, we would not hesitate to ask them to find a safer way. We need to care about our fellow workers in the same way; we are our brother’s and sister’s keepers,” Chu told them.
Subsequent focus group dialogues at the Lab over the next several
months will seek suggestions from a wide cross-section of employees
on how to develop such a culture, to “help us make safety an
integral part of our Laboratory lives,” according to the Director.
Spreading Holiday Cheer South of the Border
For many people, the holidays mean shopping, decorating, spending time with family, attending parties, opening presents, and reminiscing about the past year.
For George Rosas, the Lab’s custodial supervisor, it means packing up his pick-up truck with goods and driving more than a thousand miles to the remote northern Mexican village of San Luis.
The trip is the culmination of a year-long effort to collect clothing, toys, school supplies, tools, household goods, and food for the impoverished citizens of this tiny, ramshackle town.
“My wife Norma and I first went down in 2000, and we’ve been going ever since,” says Rosas who, since retiring from the Army, has worked at the Lab for eight years. “She was orphaned at age five while living in Sonora, Mexico, and remembers how wonderful it was when the orphanage received donations.”
Throughout the year, the Rosas request donations through their church in Antioch, and accept goods from anyone who is willing to share, including co-workers, friends, and local businesses. After 12 months of collecting, the packing begins. Last year, a U-Haul truck had to be rented because Rosas’ pick-up truck was overflowing with gifts.
This year, the couple plans to leave their home on Dec. 22 in order to arrive in the village on Christmas Day. As in years past, they expect to be greeted by hundreds of villagers, who anxiously await the receipt of these much-needed items.
“My children used to ask me why I’d want to spend Christmas with strangers, so I brought them with me last year. Now they understand. It’s an experience you can’t really explain,” says Rosas. “To see how much one person can affect another person’s life with items as simple as a pair of shoes or an eraser is amazing.”
Nano*High Ready to Feed Hunger for Science
When a high schooler hops out of bed early on a Saturday morning to attend a science lecture, something very special must be in the works. And it’s not just one — some 150 young people come up to Berkeley Lab from as far as Benicia and Cupertino to listen to scientists speak about what may seem like a pretty arcane topic: nanoscience, or the world of the ultra small.
“Some kids have missed the bus at BART and walked all the way up on their own. That’s how motivated they are,” says Sally Nasman, self described as “dean of Nano*High.”
Alex Pines introduced high schoolers to nanoscience earlier this year.
Since last year, Nasman, who works in the Materials Sciences Division, has taken responsibility for organizing the lecture series known as Nano*High. She does everything from lining up speakers to sending mailings to high schools all over the Bay Area and beyond.
Nanosciensce zooms in on the scale at which the fundamental properties of materials happen — between 10 and 100 billionths of a meter — and has applications in fields as diverse as electronics, biotechnology, medicine, and the environment. Most of these topics are touched upon in Nano*High, at an age-appropriate level.
“We want to relate science in elementary, non-scientific terms and convey the passion of science to kids,” Nasman says.
Now in its second year, the program far surpassed expectations. A teacher at Las Lomas High School in Walnut Creek even offered students extra credit to attend. But most of them need no special incentive. “There’s a hunger for science out there,” Nasman says. “Even those who can’t understand it all are caught up in the excitement of it. Most of these kids are very sophisticated about science. They ask for notes and slides.”
Parents are so interested in the program that they even try — unsuccessfully — to enroll junior high children. The interest, Nasman explains, is spurred by the fact that parents see a large gap between activities available for young children (such as those at the Lawrence Hall of Science) and the college curriculum. “We need more science enrichment classes at the high school and even junior high levels,” she says.
Previous speakers have included Carolyn Bertozzi, Alex Pines, Eugene Haller and Robert O. Ritchie. This year’s series of five lectures will kick off tomorrow with a talk by Carlos Bustamante of the Physical Biosciences Division and will run through April 9.
In addition to encouraging students’ interest in science, Nano*High also helps promote the Lab’s image in the community, Nasman adds. “People realize exciting things are happening here, and that they can have access to it. This is not the Lawrence Hall of Science, but a place where real science happens. Many are excited to just be here at the Lab.”
And for Nasman, the program has its own special reward. “Rarely do we get so much appreciation for what we’re doing,” she says. “The people who participate in the program are incredibly appreciative and sincere. It means a lot to me. I just love it!”
Dec. 4, 2004: Carlos Bustamante
Jan. 8, 2005: Saul Perlmutter
Feb. 12, 2005 : Jean Frechet
Feb. 26, 2005: Carolyn Bertozzi
April 9, 2005: Arun Majumdar
The Reappearing Neutrinos: Now You Don’t See Them, Now You Do
Stuart Freedman (left) and Patrick Decowski are two of the Berkeley Lab scientists who participated in a KamLAND experiment, that showed anti-neutrinos disappearing and reappearing due to oscillations that caused them to change flavor.
First they were seen to go away; now, for the first time, they’ve been seen coming back. An international team of researchers at KamLAND, an underground neutrino detector in central Japan, has shown that not only do electron anti-neutrinos emanating from nearby nuclear reactors “disappear,” they also “reappear.” This is further evidence that the three known types or “flavors” of neutrinos — electron, muon and tau — all have mass and can oscillate, or change, from one type to another.
“In all of the previous neutrino experiments, it was reported that the electron neutrinos were oscillating into the neutrino flavors we can’t detect. Now, with more precise measurements, we’re seeing that the disappearing neutrinos are oscillating back into the electron neutrinos we can detect. This is the most direct evidence yet of neutrino oscillation,” says Stuart Freedman, a nuclear physicist with Berkeley Lab’s Nuclear Sciences Division (NSD), who is a spokesperson for KamLAND’s U.S. team of researchers.
Neutrinos are subatomic particles which rarely interact with other particles of matter. Despite their ghostlike quality, they offer insight into the nature of matter from the smallest to the most cosmological of scales.
Neutrinos are produced during nuclear fusion, the reaction that lights the sun and other stars. Their antimatter counterparts, anti-neutrinos, are created in the fission reactions that drive nuclear power plants. As KamLAND experiments previously demonstrated, neutrinos and anti-neutrinos behave in exactly the same way.
Inside the KamLAND stainless steel container is the inner detector which reacts to incoming neutrinos. This steel container is now surrounded in ultrapure water, which holds phototubes that serve as an outer detector to tag incoming background radiation.
KamLAND stands for Kamioka Liquid scintillator Anti-Neutrino Detector. Located in a Japanese mine cavern, it is the largest low-energy anti-neutrino detector ever built. KamLAND consists of a weather balloon 13 meters in diameter, filled with about a kiloton of liquid scintillator that emits flashes of light when an incoming anti-neutrino collides with a proton. These light flashes are detected by a surrounding array of 1,879 photomultiplier light sensors that convert the flashes into electronic signals that computers can analyze. The photomultipliers are attached to the inner surface of an 18-meters-in-diameter stainless steel sphere, and separated from the weather balloon by a bath of inert oil which helps suppress interference from background radiation. The steel sphere itself is submerged in water, which acts as a cosmic ray veto counter.
According to the predictions of the Standard Model of Particle Physics, which has been used to explain fundamental physics since the 1970’s, neutrinos/anti-neutrinos are without mass. However, experiments at KamLAND, measuring anti-neutrinos, and elsewhere, measuring neutrinos from the sun, have indicated that neutrinos do possess mass, which enables them to oscillate and change flavor as they travel across a distance. In all of these previous experiments, neutrino oscillation was inferred from the disappearance of electron neutrinos/anti-neutrinos.
Now, with nearly two years of analyzed data in hand, the KamLAND research collaboration is announcing that, for the first time, they are seeing a reappearance of electron anti-neutrinos in the form of a statistically significant “distortion of the anti-neutrino energy spectrum.” These results are consistent with neutrino oscillation.
Explains Patrick Decowski, an NSD guest scientist who was a major contributor to an upcoming paper in Physical Review Letters, “The new KamLAND results constitute further proof that neutrinos have mass and that the Standard Model describing fundamental particles will need to be amended. There are several theories on how to include neutrino mass in the Standard Model, but nothing comprehensive yet.”
The international research collaboration conducting the KamLAND neutrino experiments is comprised of scientists from Japan’s Tohoku University and more than a dozen institutes in United States, including Berkeley Lab, which has some 18 individuals making contributions.
Nobelist Glaser Explains How Eyes Deceive
As a scientist, physicist Donald Glaser has always been a visionary. He won the 1960 Nobel Prize in physics for his invention of the bubble chamber, a type of particle detector that became the mainstay of high-energy physics research throughout the 1960s and 1970s. Today, at 78, he remains a visionary and is still studying detectors, but this time, his sights are set on constructing a computational model of the human visual system.
“The title of my talk should be, ‘How the Human Visual System Works According to Me,’” Glaser joked at the opening of his talk on Thursday, Nov. 18, as the inaugural speaker in the Computing Sciences Seminar Series being sponsored by Berkeley Lab’s Computational Research Division (CRD). The official title of his talk was “What Can We See, How Do We See It, and Why Do We See Things That Aren’t There.”
Speaking before a Perseverance Hall audience that included Berkeley Lab Director Steve Chu and CRD director Horst Simon, Glaser entertained as well as enlightened with a PowerPoint presentation that included several startling optical illusions. In one example, he showed an animated image of a waterfall in which wave after wave of water tumbled over the fall and plunged downward. Abruptly, Glaser froze the image and asked audience members if they noticed anything peculiar. Laughter followed, as a number of people said they were seeing waves of water moving back up the falls.
This, Glaser explained, was an example of motion after-effect, when the brain “sees” something that is not really there as a result of the way in which visual information is processed. In another example, he showed a circle which contained multiple lines and bars radiating out from the center. Even though the image was static, staring at it gave the impression of a rotational motion.
Glaser explained that while motion is detected and analyzed in a section of the brain called the primary visual cortex, there are, coursing through the brain’s 1011 neurons, a series of two-dimensional networks similar to those in the primary visual cortex which, when stimulated, give rise to traveling waves of neuronal activity. Under the right conditions, even a static image can stimulate short-lived versions of these waves, resulting in the brain seeing things that aren’t there. Glaser called this the Excitable Neuronal Array model and showed a series of short movies to illustrate how these traveling waves are propagated.
“The subliminal cues that generate these waves are too small, too weak, and too short-lived to create a conscious perception, but the effect they have is real,” Glaser said.
The next talk in this series is scheduled for Dec. 17, 2004, when the speaker will be Jim Gray, manager of Microsoft’s Bay Area Research Center in San Francisco. His talk is titled, “Where the Rubber Meets the Sky: Bridging the Gap between Databases and Science.”
Hiring and Recruiting Process Will Benefit from New Online Tool
Lab managers and supervisors who have muddled through cumbersome recruitment and hiring processes will be pleased to know that a new online tool will improve both quality and speed. And applicants for Lab jobs will soon discover a much friendlier electronic introduction to their search.
Ed Sayson, manager of workforce recruiting and development.
Nearly two years in the making, this interactive applicant tracking system will eventually replace the current “CJO” (current job opportunities) website and make life easier for recruiters, employers and candidates. More importantly, it will help the Lab meet its goals in the areas of high-quality job searches and diversity hiring.
“Our recruiters will have a much better console from which to manage resume searches,” says Ed Sayson, manager of workforce recruiting and development. “And now, hiring supervisors will be able to see full resumes, plus attachments, as soon as they come in.”
This hasn’t always been the case. Typically, the Lab’s three recruiting professionals have to manually reformat the incoming resumes — plain text, no extras — a procedure that can take 15 minutes per resume. At the other end, the hiring manager sees resumes that are slow in arriving, sometimes difficult to read, and lack special symbols that may be important for scientific hires — and usually without attachments.
The labor involved is not insignificant. The Lab at any one time will have an average of 200 positions open for hire, and some 500 to 600 resumes come in to the recruiting office each month. A majority of them arrive electronically.
Sayson notes the process is not good for the candidates, either. “It’s hard to search for positions,” he says. “The ‘lab-speak’ code is too specific. For example, HR jobs can’t be found under ‘professional’ in the career path — they are under ‘administrative.’ If you don’t know the exact title, you may not find it.”
A new job search interface will allow applicants to do more user-friendly keyword searches. This tool is part of a new Lab recruitment database system, about to be launched in January.
Around the first of next year, things will change. A new, easy-to-navigate screen will pop up, and the database, managed for the Lab by an outside vendor, Employment Engineering (E2), will include the applicant’s profile, areas of interest and skill levels, and other relevant information. The interface allows searches by skills, job category, or by title. Keyword searches will happen contextually, so “finance,” “analyst” or “budget” will all call up the appropriate open positions.
Sayson said the change was partially driven by the need for a more complete database to track Equal Employment Opportunity Com-mission (EEOC) statistics. Under the current procedure, applicants have been mailed a separate card on which their demographic information was requested. Few were returned.
“That was hit-and-miss,” says Sayson. “Most companies have an online application form that captures that data. Now applicants will have to complete the EEOC data question in order to submit the resume.” And this, he notes, is critical to measuring the impact of strategic recruitments on achieving Lab diversity goals.
Sayson gives credit in particular to two staffers who have been nurturing this project since its inception — Cynthia Coolahan, manager of HR systems, and Chris Diesch of Business Services.
The E2 program is actually a bridge to a more integrated software tool being developed by PeopleSoft, a custom-built version that might take two years to implement. But, based on beta testing and sharpening by Administrative Services, Human Resources, and selected scientific divisions, this new program is a quality hire on all counts.
Honing the Cutting Edge of the ALS: A Conversation with Janos Kirz
In May 2004, Janos Kirz was appointed acting division director of Berkeley Lab’s Advanced Light Source during the convalescence of Daniel Chemla. A SUNY Disting-uished Professor of Physics at the State University of New York’s Stony Brook campus, Kirz’s associations with UC Berkeley and Berkeley Lab go back a long way. His B.A. and Ph.D. are from UC Berkeley; his graduate work in particle physics was done at the Bevatron in Luis Alvarez’s group.
At Stony Brook he pursued high energy physics at nearby Brookhaven National Laboratory, but in the 1970s he became interested in synchrotron radiation and x-ray optics — motivated partly by cancellation of the planned ISABEL proton-proton collider. Because of magnet problems, “ISABEL became WAS-ABEL,” Kirz remarks. Meanwhile, Brook-haven was building the National Synchrotron Light Source. “I am an opportunist,” says Kirz with a smile. “I try to go where there are frontier facilities.”
The ALS is such a facility, and its bright, highly collimated beams of soft x-rays attracted Kirz early on. He has served on ALS review committees, its Scientific Advisory Committee, and the ALS Users’ Executive Committee. In 2003 he spent a sabbatical year here working on diffraction imaging. The View spoke with Kirz about the direction of the ALS and his own scientific research.
Gadgil Offers Hope to Millions with a Handful of Ash
Ashok Gadgil opens a desk drawer and pulls out a tiny vial of ash.
“See, it’s just coal ash, nothing fancy,” says the Environmental Energy Technologies Division scientist. “But it could save so many lives.”
Ashok Gadgil hopes to decontaminate water with simple filters made of ash coated with a compound that attracts arsenic. Photo by Roy Kaltschmidt, CSO
The fine gray powder, scooped from the bottom of a coal-fired power plant furnace in India, could someday help provide safe drinking water to 60 million Bangladeshis who live under the specter of arsenic poisoning. His idea is low-tech and simple. Coat the ash with a compound that attracts arsenic, fill teabag-sized pouches with the powder, and distribute the filters throughout the countryside, one per family per day. Water drawn from any one of the millions of contaminated wells that dot Bangladesh could then be poured through the filter and safely consumed.
And the sooner the better. Arsenic poisoning in Bangladesh has been called one of the largest mass poisonings in human history, expected to cause 10 percent of all future adult deaths in the impoverished nation of 130 million. For reasons not entirely understood, the shallow tube-wells that people depend on for water have dangerous concentrations of the toxic substance, which, if ingested over long periods of time, lead to debilitating lesions, cancer and death.
It’s difficult to believe that one person, armed only with a handful of ash and a few promising lab tests, can derail a catastrophe looming on the other side of the globe. But Gadgil is uncommonly driven when it comes to finding cheap and effective ways to provide safe drinking water to thousands of people. In November, he received an award from San Jose’s Tech Museum of Innovation, which honors people who use technology to help humanity, for developing a water purification system that kills bacteria with ultraviolet light. The system, called UV Waterworks and marketed by WaterHealth International, Inc., is used daily by about 300,000 people in Mexico, the Philippines, and several other countries. Several systems will soon be installed in his native India.
Water isn’t Gadgil’s only medium. As leader of Berkeley Lab’s Airflow and Pollutant Transport Group, he played a key role in writing a document designed to help security managers of airports and other transportation facilities reduce the risk of chemical and biological attacks.
But only the quest for safe drinking water keeps him up at night, and for good reason. While growing up in Bombay, India, several of Gadgil’s cousins, who lived in rural areas, died of water-borne diseases. And in 1993, a cholera outbreak in his homeland claimed thousands of lives, which prompted him to work nights and weekends to develop UV Waterworks. Now, Bangladesh weighs just as heavily on his mind.
“The magnitude of the problem is overwhelming. We have to develop a solution that is affordable and effective,” says Gadgil.
The UV Waterworks system, developed by Gadgil a few years ago, is used around the world to purify drinking water. Photo by Robert Couto, CSO
After receiving $5,000 in seed funding from the Technology Transfer Department in 2003, Gadgil set out to develop a filter that meets these criteria. His options quickly narrowed. He needed a material that has a high surface-to-volume ratio, is pathogen free, and is available in large quantities at low cost. Then he remembered coal ash, the leftovers that pile up at the bottom of furnaces at all coal-fired power stations, waiting to be discarded into landfills. An additional $20,000 in seed funding from the Blue Planet Run Foundation helped him advance the work further.
The ash particles, composed of oxides of silicon, aluminum, magnesium and iron, measure between 1 and 10 microns in diameter, much smaller than a 100-micron diameter human hair. This means that even a small volume of the powder boasts a lot of surface area, maximizing the opportunity for surface reactions to snare arsenic. The ash is also heated to 800 degrees Celsius during the coal burning process, so it’s sterile and free of volatile compounds. It’s also plentiful. Coal-fired power plants provide most of neighboring India’s electricity, and the locally-mined coal used is uniquely suited for Gadgil’s purposes: it’s only 60 percent carbon, meaning 40 percent becomes ash.
It took Gadgil several tries to get his hands on this potential godsend. Two packages sent by a friend in India never arrived. Postal workers probably flagged the strange gray powder as suspicious. Undaunted, he traveled to India, carefully sealed some ash inside double plastic bags, and brought them back in his suitcase.
Back in his lab, he assembled Team Arsenic, which includes Lara Gundel, Yanbo Pang, Christie Galitsky, Duo Wang, and Anna Blumstein. Together, they developed a way to coat each ash particle with ferric hydroxide, a chemical that reacts with arsenic and forces it to precipitate onto the particle. Initial tests indicate this specially treated coal ash makes a very powerful filter. After spiking lab water with so much arsenic that its concentration soared to an extremely toxic 2,400 parts per billion (ppb), the filter lowered the water’s arsenic concentration to 10 ppb. The Bangladeshi standard for safe drinking water is 50 ppb.
Gadgil estimates that five grams of this material could render about three gallons of Bangladeshi well water — with an average arsenic concentration of 400 ppb — safe to drink. Put another way, a filter the size of a teabag could provide drinking water for a family of six for one day. He also estimates the technique will cost about 30 cents per person per year. The next-best option is a filter developed by a Bangladeshi engineer, and backed by the nonprofit organization IDE-International, which uses pulverized brick instead of ash. It would cost $9.70 per person per year.
Closer to home, the California Energy Commission’s Public Interest Energy Research program recently awarded Gadgil $250,000 to explore whether a variation of this technique can help the state comply with an EPA rule effective in 2006 which tightens the U.S. arsenic drinking water standard from 50 ppb to 10 ppb. Currently, 600,000 California residents consume water with concentrations above 10 ppb. Gadgil will determine whether ash derived from U.S. coal can be developed into a filtration system and whether such a system can work at small municipal water treatment facilities.
He will also intensify his efforts to help Bangladesh — if he secures more funding. His filter requires many more tests and refinements, but Gadgil knows the payoff could be huge.
“If this succeeds, it will be a life-saving and affordable technology for tens of millions of people,” he says.
Wednesday, Dec. 15
3:00 – 4:30 p.m. Cafeteria
Food and beverages will be served while a harp player will provide seasonal tunes. Director Chu will offer brief remarks. Everyone is invited.
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Awards and Honors
Bissell Honored by the University of Copenhagen
Mina Bissell, the first biologist and the first woman to hold the rank of Distinguished Scientist at Berkeley Lab, received an honorary doctorate — the Doctor Medicinae Honoris Causa — from the University of Copenhagen. Bissell received this and many other honors for her pioneering work in establishing the important role of the microenvironment (and extracellular matrix in particular) in regulating both normal and malignant cell behavior.
Gray Named Cancer Program Advisor
Life Sciences Division Director Joe Gray has been selected to serve as a member of the Board of Scientific Advisors of the National Cancer Institute, a program of the National Institutes of Health. The Board assists and advises NCI Director Andrew C. von Eschen-bach, who invited Gray to be a member.
Roe Elected Vice Chair of APS Division
Lab physicist Natalie Roe has been elected vice chair of the American Physical Society’s Division of Particles and Fields. She is now in line to become chair of the group in 2007.
Haller, Blanch New Fellows of AAAS
Haller, left; Blanch
Two Berkeley Lab scientists are among the fellows recently added to the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS). Materials scientist Eugene Haller (left) was lauded for his “development of ultrapure semiconductors and for the investigation of their physical and electronic properties and their device applications.” EETD researcher Harvey Blanch was recognized “for broad-ranging scientific and educational contributions to biochemical engineering and biotechnology.
Moses To Head IEEE Society
Life scientist Bill Moses was recently named president of one of the 37 societies of the Institute for Electrical and Electronics Engineering (IEEE), the world’s largest professional society. Moses will head the Nuclear and Plasma Sciences Society.
Ritchie Receives ASME Award
Robert Ritchie of the Materials Sciences Division has received a 2004 Nadai Award from the American Society for Mechanical Engineers. Ritchie was cited for seminal experimental and theoretical contributions to the field of fracture and fatigue of a broad class of structural materials.
Yang Wins Applied Physics Award
The Julius Springer Prize for Applied Physics, presented by Springer Publishing, was jointly awarded to professor Hongjie Dai of Stanford University and Peidong Yang, a materials scientist with Berkeley Lab, for their pioneering research in the nanosciences and the applications in the field of nanotechnology derived from their findings.
Tech Transfer Awards
Seventeen scientists were honored on Nov. 17 with the 2004 LBNL Award for Excellence in Technology Transfer. The awards, given by the Lab’s Technology Transfer Department, recognizes inventors whose technologies, by virtue of having been transferred to industry, bring significant benefit to society and the Lab. Deputy Director Pier Oddone presented the awards.
Winning inventors and their inventions:
Fred Buhl, Ender Erdem, Joe Huang, Fred Winkelmann, and Kathy Ellington:
Chris Doughty, Frank Hale, and Chin-Fu Tsang:
Ellie Blakely, Ian Brown, Othon Montiero, Kathy Bjornstad, and Jim Galvin: