LANSCE students get hands-on experience

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One of the challenges for Los Alamos National Laboratory is to recruit young talent to continually replenish its workforce of scientists.
And one of its tools for doing so is by hosting such events as the recent LANSCE school to bring in that young talent and show them what it’s like to work in a world-class laboratory with world-class scientists.
The event at LANSCE is held annually — this was the 11th consecutive year — and attracts some of the brightest and most motivated young scientists throughout the country.
This year’s school was the School of Neutron Scattering for Mesoscale Sciences — neutron scattering is a technique for investigating materials used by biophysicists and materials research scientists, among others.
It’s a competitive school to get into, as well. The school receives applicants from all over the world to take part in the roughly week-long curriculum of lectures and hands-on experiments.
For Ben Holladay, who is currently a graduate physics student at California-San Diego, it was an easy decision to apply for this year’s school.
“I have collaborators that I work with who work here,” he said. “My adviser is a long-standing member and he recommended it to me as a way to expand my toolbox of techniques to understand the world.”
This year’s school is followed by a transition. New funding sources may be needed for the school to continue in its present form.
One of the school’s coordinators, Anna Liobet, said organizers are looking for different revenue streams, such as industry, to keep things going. Much of the current money comes from the National Science Foundation, Department of Energy and similar sources.
Liobet said the school has many supporters so she doesn’t believe there will be any trouble in keeping things going in the future.
“Many former students have such a good experience here they send their students back,” she said.
Each year, the school focuses on different topics in different disciplines that appeals to a broad range of students in different fields. This year’s school included engineers, geologists and even one student who is working on a Ph.D. in nutrition.
The first such school at LANL was run in 2004. Students’ travel, meals and work with LANL is completely paid for.
Some of the work this year had students working on technology that could be used for fuel cells and other alternate energy sources, such as fracking, which is a controversial technique for acquiring oil.
“The interesting part of that is, with the same technique, you can impact so many different areas,” said Heinz Nakotte, a professor at New Mexico State University in the school’s physics and engineering physics program, that was on-hand for the school.
Liobet said there have been students from at least 49 of the 50 states in the 11 years LANL has been hosting the event — she didn’t believe an Alaskan student had ever taken part — as well as international students.
The ability to use different experiments that cross disciplines is what attracted Annalise Maughan, a chemistry grad student from Colorado State, to the school.
“It made me think about my research differently,” she said. “These are not necessarily the techniques I would have used before…I think about my experiments and how they could be more successful.”