Synchrotron beamtime is a short but very important time and must be used most effectively. The meaning of “effectively” varies from topic to topic and can range from high-sample-trough-put to well-thought-out-measurements. Succeeding with these experiments is often critical for a PhD project but preparing and executing synchrotron experiments are quite challenging for a young scientist. During the early summer days, I had the possibility to visit the Advanced Light Source (ALS). There, I met Nobumichi Tamura, beamline manager of beamline 12.3.2. He is currently involved in building up a beamline at the new Taiwan Photon Source. I asked him, if he could give some advice to us Young Crystallographers regarding synchrotron experiments.
What are common mistakes when choosing a beamline and applying for beamtime?
Not discussing the experiment with beamline personnel prior to submitting a proposal. This is not simply a matter of courtesy: the beamline scientist is the person who know best the capabilities of her/his beamline and therefore the best person to evaluate the feasibility of a given experiment. If you ask nicely, the beamline scientist can often perform a short “proof-of-principle” measurement for you to check on feasibility when in doubt. Not consulting with beamline personnel can often lead you to apply to the wrong beamline.
What are common mistakes when preparing for the synchrotron experiments?
Arriving totally unprepared. If your experiment requires some specific setup, specific sample preparation, etc… contact the beamline scientist ahead of time. She/he will not be able to find you a bottle of a rare gas mix on the day of your experiment! He/she won’t be able to conjure a furnace out of thin air if you need one when you haven’t bothered to ask at least a week in advance. Check with her/him on what equipment is available at the beamline ahead of time not on the day of your beamtime.
What are common mistakes while at the beamline?
Expecting that somebody else is going to run the experiment for you. Staff is very often limited at a beamline. User support is not the only task that the beamline scientist is responsible for. The beamline scientist is here to help you setup your experiment and train you on data collection and analysis. She/he is not here to collect the data for you. Make sure to bring a notebook to write down the instructions she/he may give you. Beamline staff is typically only available during regular work hours. You are on your own during nights and weekends.
What should one never do while staying at the beamline?
Performing unauthorized work. The scope of your work is predefined with the beamline scientist at the start of your beamtime. The beamline scientist is the person who ultimately authorize your work. Do not do anything new, install new equipment without first consulting the beamline scientist. There may be safety concerns that you may not be aware of.
What are common problems typically encountered during the beamtime and how can they be solved/reduced/avoided?
Equipment can break, computer can crash, beam can drift… some of these can be fixed by the beamline scientist. If you don’t know what the problem is, try not too fix it yourself but call for help.
Do you have any other tips on how to make the best out of the available beamtime?
Having a good working relation with the beamline personnel is the best way to make the best of your beamtime. Calling the beamline scientist in the middle of the night because you haven’t bothered reading the troubleshooting section of the manual or sending her/him repeatedly on trivial errands because you haven’t carefully planned your experiment are some of the behavior that would not earn you the esteem of the beamline staff. Don’t underestimate the help that beamline staff can provide, they can often help you with data interpretation and analysis as well as devising the best strategy to collect your data. Also, don’t come alone. Beamtime are delivered in a number of shifts that can ran several days straight, so it is best to be several people to take shifts. Lack of sleep becomes easily counterproductive.