The Foundry’s 2021 Annual User meeting got started early on August 19, 2021 with welcome addresses from Foundry User Executive Committee (UEC) chair Sarbajit Banerjee, LBNL Energy Sciences Area Director Jeff Neaton, and Foundry Director Kristin Persson. Jeff, who’s joined the Foundry shortly after it opened its doors, said “When they were created, the NSRCs were a new kind of concept that drew me in … I’m so proud of how [the Foundry] has evolved.”
The changing scientific landscape was certainly a topic of discussion in Kristin Persson’s Q&A discussion with Carmichael Roberts, Business Lead of Breakthrough Energy Ventures and Co-Foundry & Managing Partner of Material Impact. The discussion ranged from Carmichael’s career path, funding ‘hard’ tech and spinning out technologies, to opportunities in climate tech space and reasons for optimism.
In particular, Kristin and Carmichael both touched on how venture funding for materials or other hard technologies need to be a partnership and collaboration to have a chance at success. “Scientists need to find a VC who will be a true partner in solving the problem, and they need to think carefully about who they partner with, since that person will be around for the long haul.”
Following the keynote fireside chat, Miranda Baran of UC Berkeley, Jesús Velázquez of UC Davis, and Rebecca Abergel of LBNL/UC Berkeley spoke during the first parallel ‘User Highlights’ segment of the morning. The newly minted Dr. Miranda Baran spoke on her work on polymer membranes for energy storage technologies. In order to advance to grid scale energy storage, we need large scale storage like flow batteries, however, this technology is dependent on membranes that can control the battery chemistry. The membranes she worked on, called AquaPIMs, can make long-lasting and low-cost grid scale batteries possible – and they utilize readily available materials such as zinc, iron, and water. Rebecca Abergel spoke about her recent work on transplutonium actinides and how she worked with Foundry researchers to be able to study nanograms worth of material in the Foundry’s TEMs. Finally, Jesús Velázquez spoke about his work on determining the physical structure of catalysts used in the electrochemical conversion of CO2 to other molecules.
For the second keynote talk of the meeting, Jim Pfaendtner delivered a talk exploring the energy landscapes of folding and self-assembly in sequence defined polymers. Peptoids are one of the most advanced classes of sequence-defined protein mimetic molecules and offer opportunities in a wide range of applications. As one example of Jim’s work, his group uses a combination of in situ imaging, simulation, and machine learning to tease out the principles governing peptoid-controlled synthesis with the goal of enabling predictive materials synthesis across many length scales. This enables them to identify both thermodynamic and kinetic control mechanisms that affect peptoid shape and function. In related work, they are also seeking to understand how to advance peptoid-based biomineralization.
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We concluded the morning with our second set of User Highlight talks featuring Alberto Salleo from Stanford University, Keiko Munechika from HighRi Optics, Inc., and Ngoc Bui from the University of Oklahoma. Alberto Salleo highlighted a recent collaboration with staff from our NCEM facility. Conjugated polymers are materials of interest for organic, flexible electronics. Alberto’s group has been working to link specific microstructures in these materials to electron transport and understand how the former affects the latter. They needed to develop new TEM tools and techniques to image these materials – 4DSTEM at the Foundry enabled them to study the structures at the mesoscale. Keiko Munechika, formerly of aBeam Technologies (aBeam was acquired by Hitachi in 2019), and now from HighRi Optics, Inc., spoke about her company’s work in developing breakthrough nanofabrication technologies and new materials for advanced photonic applications. Working with Foundry staff, they’ve developed test samples for characterization and calibration of metrology systems via Instrument Transfer Function (ITF) that can work with various systems and configurations. They’ve also been working to commercialize photonics probes that were invented by staff at the Foundry. Finally, Ngoc Bui spoke about her recent work developing membrane materials that can selectively capture ions from water. Groundwater contaminated with lead and copper affects up to 18 million people in the US. The new supramolecular complex called ZIOS, developed with staff in the Foundry’s Inorganic facility, shows copper adsorption kinetics that are 30-50X faster than state of the art.
The afternoon program began with our annual Poster SLAM, where the ~20 entrants to the poster competition had one minute to describe their work with just one slide for accompaniment. The winner will be announced during the morning session on Day 2. Next, the Foundry’s newer staff members, Carolin Sutter-Fella, Archana Raja, and Ricardo Ruiz, each gave a short talk describing the new instruments and capabilities in their respective facilities that will soon be (or already is) available to users, including the expertise that they bring to their facilities.
The Town Hall was kicked off with the debut of the Foundry’s new ‘explainer’ video, which describes what the Foundry is and what we offer in the clearest way possible. It’s intended to help introduce the Foundry to the scientific community and the public at large. The rest of the session was a Q&A format that touched on a variety of topics: Returning to onsite work, Current COVID-19 precautions and procedures, Work-Life Balance, Updates from each of the 7 facilities, and more.
To cap off a very full, but very successful day, attendees were directed over to the Foundry’s virtual poster session hosted on GatherTown. The unique format was an attempt to simulate the logistics of an in-person poster session, where poster presenters had a virtual poster to ‘stand’ next to and attendees could wander the hall and interact with the presenters and other attendees. The session definitely had a more fun and interactive energy than most virtual offerings we are accustomed to, though everyone is looking forward to hopefully returning to an in-person event next year.