Connor Horn, a 2018 summer intern at the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Argonne National Laboratory, helped develop new hardware and software to streamline research at the Advanced Photon Source (APS), a DOE Office of Science User Facility.
Scientists from all over the world use the high-energy X-rays that the synchrotron generates to look at materials and characterize their microstructure. The work falls within the realm of Hard X-Ray Sciences, one of five major initiatives proposed by Argonne to advance cutting-edge fundamental and applied science.
With the help of his advisor, Jun-Sang Park, Horn worked to develop an automated system at the 1-ID beamline that can collect X-ray data for hundreds of samples and process the data to reduce the need for human intervention. Automating experiments allows them to run by themselves over long periods, and will even allow APS users to conduct them remotely.
“Pick any STEM career path and you’ll find someone here at Argonne living it out.” — Connor Horn, summer 2018 intern at the Advanced Photon Source
“From day one, our interns are immersed in active research that may have real-world applications,” said Stephen Streiffer, Argonne associate laboratory director for Photon Sciences. “We are proud to offer the kind of intensive internship experience that gives our interns a solid advantage when they finish school and begin their job search.”
Horn, a native of the Chicago area, studies engineering physics at Cornell University. This is his second summer interning with the same research group at Argonne through the Science Undergraduate Laboratory Internship (SULI), funded by the DOE Office of Science. His current project focuses on building a precision positioning stage stack for one of the APS beamlines and designing a sample holder that stores hundreds of samples and measures them overnight. Horn used 3-D printers at the APS to develop a prototype and optimize the holder design.
Along with designing parts of the instrumentation, Horn is also writing software to analyze the diffraction data, helping scientists to determine the internal structures of their samples.
“Through these summer internships, students gain access to cutting-edge resources and world-changing science projects that help them see that what they are learning in school can be applied to the real world,” said Meridith Bruozas, manager of educational programs and outreach.
APS researchers have already used Horn’s work successfully to scan materials called shape memory alloys that are important for many applications. For example, doctors use stents made of these materials to open patients’ blood vessels during heart procedures. Before insertion, the stents are small, but as they reach body temperature, they expand to the size of the vessel.
Researchers from Ohio State University and the Colorado School of Mines are interested in what production processes best enable the material’s large shape change. They sent different samples of the material to APS and, using Horn’s positioning stage stack and software, the research group measured hundreds of the samples without having to intervene between the measurements.
“Connor is getting to experience large-scale multidisciplinary research that happens every day at places like APS and Argonne,” said Park.
As an advisor, Park makes sure Horn works safely and provides him with the resources to be successful. “It’s important to be accessible and guide the big picture,” he added.
Horn plans to pursue a career in research, and his time at Argonne has given him valuable insight into the research process. This fall, he is doing research at the Cornell High Energy Synchrotron Source (CHESS), another X-ray synchrotron.
“It’s really helpful to see exactly what the word ‘science’ means these days and how it gets accomplished,” said Horn. “It’s not an experimenter in his basement with a bunch of test tubes, but this huge interdisciplinary cooperation. Pick any STEM career path and you’ll find someone here at Argonne living it out,” he said.
Not only is Horn witnessing firsthand how scientists conduct modern experiments at a major research facility, he is also getting to participate in the effort to improve those same processes this summer.
“I am looking forward to it all coming together at the end of the summer into a coherent workflow with the hardware pieces I am working on,” said Horn, “and hopefully it will be a valuable tool for scientists after I leave.”
Argonne National Laboratory seeks solutions to pressing national problems in science and technology. The nation’s first national laboratory, Argonne conducts leading-edge basic and applied scientific research in virtually every scientific discipline. Argonne researchers work closely with researchers from hundreds of companies, universities, and federal, state and municipal agencies to help them solve their specific problems, advance America’s scientific leadership and prepare the nation for a better future. With employees from more than 60 nations, Argonne is managed by UChicago Argonne, LLC for the U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Science.
The U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Science is the single largest supporter of basic research in the physical sciences in the United States and is working to address some of the most pressing challenges of our time. For more information, visit the Office of Science website.