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Synopsis Heading link

The proposed creation of a new NSF-funded organization provides profound and unprecedented opportunities for advancing Earth and environmental sciences research and training at national synchrotron radiation facilities over the coming decades. Building on the strength of geoscience communities that are major users of these facilities, for example for studies of planetary interiors, an integrated program can further realize the potential in other areas, such as geobiology, low-temperature geochemistry, environmental science, and rock physics. In addition to addressing exciting basic science questions, the program could directly tackle critical societal challenges associated with climate change, geohazards, environmental justice, and sustainability, including mobilizing current and next generation synchrotron-based tools for mitigating problems facing the nation and planet as a whole, as articulated in the 2020 National Academy of Sciences report, A Vision for NSF Earth Sciences 2020-2030: Earth in Time.1 The needs and opportunities include enhanced interdisciplinary research involving allied fields such as planetary science, physics, chemistry, biology, and advanced materials. At the same time, there is a need to enhance engagement at all career levels, including students, early- to mid-career scientists, and established professionals in using these facilities, and to increase education, training, diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging – all of which are established national priorities for STEM.

Responding to the NSF 21-592 Program Solicitation: Community Facility Support: Synchrotron-based Analytical Capabilities Advancing Earth and Environmental Sciences Research and Training, we propose a program hosted by the University of Illinois Chicago (UIC) to realize the potential for this research and training effort. As a Minority-Serving Institution (MSI) Research 1 University located in downtown Chicago with close proximity to the Advanced Photon Source, UIC is well positioned to lead this effort. The UIC team has expertise spanning the Earth and environmental sciences, diverse synchrotron techniques, and training, including providing opportunities for underrepresented groups. The team’s experience in launching, managing, and operating facilities, and in coordinating and expanding community engagement will be brought to bear. Specifically, the program will implement strategies, elements of the management plan, and personnel who managed the highly successful Deep Carbon Observatory. The PI played a role creating, managing, and using facilities of the two major NSF-funded components of the new organization, COMPRES and GSECARS. In bringing together these two programs to form an expanded organization with broader scope, the UIC team will work closely with the program Steering Committee to create a vibrant, community-based organization that will (a) address the full suite of the science priorities and relevant recommendations outlined in Earth in Time,1 (b) implement new modalities for user access, particularly for underrepresented groups, (c) balance priorities of user access across disciplines, advancing techniques, basic science problems, and responsiveness to immediate societal challenges, (d) support new initiatives as the science evolves, including complementary non-synchrotron facilities, (e) use the core NSF funding to leverage support from other sources, (f) promote engagement internationally to remain informed about cutting-edge developments in the field worldwide, (g) improve diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging in the geoscience synchrotron radiation community, (h) enhance engagement at all career levels in using these facilities through training, outreach, and education, and (i) engage the public and policymakers in articulating the value and importance of the synchrotron radiation and other large facilities to science broadly.

Origin and Evolution of Geoscience at Synchrotron Radiation Facilities Heading link


The engagement of geoscience at advanced synchrotron radiation facilities was set in motion by a series of National Academy of Sciences (NAS) reports beginning in the late-1980s,2,3 building on the vision of pioneers such as W. B. Bassett4 at Cornell University’s NSF-funded CHESS facility and J. V. Smith5 at the University of Chicago. Early work at the Stanford Synchrotron Radiation Laboratory (SSRL) and then the National Synchrotron Light Source (NSLS) showed the promise of this marriage of fields, much of it pioneered by studies of geomaterials related to Earth’s interior. This led to the creation of the Center for High-Pressure Research, an NSF Science and Technology Center (STC) headquartered at SUNY Stony Brook in 1991. The STC facilitated the development of numerous synchrotron techniques, from hard x-ray to infrared wavelengths, in high-pressure mineral physics, enabling and further enhancing dedicated geoscience beamlines at the NSLS using these tools.

The creation of the 3rd generation Advanced Photon Source (APS) and Advanced Light Source (ALS) created still more opportunities. Key to the success of this effort was the creation of a geoscience synchrotron user interest group (GeoSync) in 1987 that identified grand challenge problems that could be addressed at such sources.6 These efforts led first to the creation of the dedicated geoscience sector at the APS, GeoCARS, which evolved to become GSECARS with expanded scope to include environmental and soil science. Other facilities were then developed including the High-Pressure Collaborative Access Team (HPCAT) and the use of other sectors for geoscience, as well as programs at ALS. Moreover, many techniques now used outside of geoscience were developed by focused efforts of the US geoscience community, techniques that are now in use at 3rd generation facilities around the world.

The advent of both 4th generation light sources (LCLS, LCLS-II) and the upgrade of APS and ALS present still new opportunities for further advancing the science and expanding the field, including broader community engagement. Meanwhile, other large facilities — in particular neutron scattering and large optical laser facilities — provide complementary capabilities for addressing numerous problems in geoscience and have similar needs for coordination to take full advantage of the extraordinary array of resources that are now available to a growing community.

Earth Science Priorities 2020-2030 Heading link


Extraordinary opportunities for the Earth science community in the coming decade are articulated in the NAS report, A Vision for NSF Earth Sciences 2020-2030: Earth in Time.1 The report identifies science priorities in terms of 12 science questions. There is a continuing need to support research addressing exciting new questions concerning the nature of the deep Earth, a key problem that has driven the development of many new experimental techniques that have led to new discoveries that have altered our understanding of Earth’s deep interior over the last three decades. In addition, there is renewed focus on the whole Earth system, not just from ‘crust to core’ but encompassing the surface, soils, oceans, and atmosphere from ‘core to the clouds,’ as described in Earth in Time. The vision includes enabling breakthroughs in fundamental science and is responsive to societal needs for the coming decades and on the planetary scale.

Thus, nearly all of the 12 priority questions articulated in Earth in Time intersect with opportunities at synchrotron radiation facilities and can help both guide the enhancement and use of existing facilities as well as motivate the development of new technology that will enable new experimentation not yet possible at existing facilities. At the same time, there is a focus on other areas of geoscience for which the full potential of synchrotron radiation techniques have not been realized, for example, in geobiology, low-temperature inorganic geochemistry, understanding the distribution of elements in rocks, and rock physics. There is a growing user base and interest in developing new techniques in all of these areas.

Societal issues that can be addressed through geoscience research at synchrotron facilities include geohazards mitigation, climate change, environmental protection, energy, mineral and water resources, geotechnical challenges, and geoengineering initiatives that are increasingly being considered to address the climate crisis. Critical minerals are essential for the supply chain of high technology, such as computers, cell phones, renewable energy, advanced batteries, and superconductors, as well as national security. In addition, Earth scientists are using synchrotron radiation facilities to develop new materials that can exhibit the properties of existing materials essential for numerous advanced technologies but substitute scarce elements with Earth-abundant elements and substitute toxic compounds with safer alternatives. Examples range from new superhard materials that exceed the strength of diamond and exhibit numerous functionalities, to new materials for electrical storage and energy transport. There are many examples of impacts of Earth scientists using synchrotron techniques for such purposes, but there are also opportunities for enhanced coordination between materials scientists and geoscientists as the problems become more severe in the future.



Challenges and Opportunities Heading link


Earth in Time (EIT) also provides specific recommendations for the National Science Foundation’s Earth Sciences Division (EAR) that help further define the mission of the new organization for synchrotron-hosted analytical facilities in support of the Earth and environmental sciences, and how the organization can work with EAR to implement the vision described in the report. These recommendations also provide a framework for addressing risks to the program as plans take shape for the new organization. It is crucial that the management plan is responsive to both its short- and long-term risks, some of which are outlined below.

Scientific risks include not maintaining close alignment with the priority questions articulated in the Earth in Time report. It is the responsibility of the leadership at the host institution office to work closely with the Governing Body, External Advisory Committees, and the ‘GeoSync’ User Community to ensure that the stated goals are met, for example, through active management of the portfolio of facilities supported by the new organization (EIT Rec. #1).

A related risk is maintaining a healthy and productive partnership with the Department Energy (DOE), its laboratories, and the synchrotron user facilities within those laboratories that provide the core resources that will continue to enable the exciting science that is envisioned.7 It is important to recognize that although the missions of NSF and DOE differ, core areas of overlap — such as confronting the climate crisis, advancing studies of critical materials, and geothermal energy — represent common areas of research interest. In addition, both agencies are committed to growing a more capable, diverse, and inclusive scientific workforce and advancing basic physical sciences broadly (EIT Rec. #1, #11, #12).

A potential issue to address is expanding both the scientific and facility scope of the new organization in response to recommendations for the creation of new facilities (EIT Rec. #3). It is imperative that any growth in the program be commensurate with additional funding directly for the organization or leveraged by enabling and supporting stakeholders in their funding efforts that will support the broad mission of the new organization. The new organization should therefore proactively engage with relevant new EAR programs that might be initiated (EIT Recs. #2-#8) to further the science.

There are also management challenges8 of bringing together the two strong, existing programs, COMPRES and GSECARS, that will form the core of the new organization along with additional scientific stakeholders. Here, the management can take advantage of the experience of related mergers of other large NSF programs,9 as well as published reviews of past management models of large NSF EAR facilities10 and critiques of other large NSF facilities supported by the foundation.11,12 The organization should be responsive to growing data challenges and support FAIR practices (EIT Rec. #3) for the archiving and curation of samples for study at synchrotron sources (EIT Rec. #8) and cyberinfrastructure needs and advances (EIT Rec. #10). Additional challenges are associated with the changes in facility use as a result of COVID.13

Perhaps most important is consideration of personnel, both the highly skilled staff who support the facilities and the community as a whole. It is paramount that the organization commit to long-term funding that develops and sustains technical staff capacity, stability, and competitiveness (EIT Rec #11). Finally, it is clear that the organization work to enhance diversity, equity, and inclusion (EIT Rec #12). Whereas the community as a whole is diverse in some respects, other areas need further attention, including enhancing access for specific underrepresented institutions and groups, such as Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU), Minority-Serving Institutions (MSI), non-R1 Research institutions, small colleges, and minorities and young people in underserved areas.

Proposed Framework Heading link

The proposed framework for moving forward with this unprecedented opportunity for the geoscience and synchrotron radiation science communities is based on the following guiding principles. The program will (a) address the full suite of the science priorities and specific relevant recommendations outlined in Earth in Time,1 (b) implement new modalities for user access, particularly for underrepresented groups, (c) balance priorities of user access across disciplines, advancing techniques, basic science problems, and responsiveness to immediate societal challenges, (d) support new initiatives as the science evolves in the coming years, including complementary non-synchrotron facilities, (e) use the core NSF funding to leverage new programs with support from other potential sources, (f) promote engagement internationally to remain informed about cutting-edge developments in the field worldwide, (g) improve diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging in the geoscience synchrotron radiation community, (h) enhance engagement at all career levels, including students, early- to mid-career scientists, and established professionals in using these facilities through training, outreach, and education, and (i) engage the public and policymakers in articulating the value and importance of the synchrotron radiation facilities to geoscience broadly.

Critical to the success of the plan is buy-in by the community, which is included in principle by its representation on the Steering Committee and builds on the earlier town hall meetings and workshops on low-temperature geochemistry, high-pressure geoscience, rock physics, and large volume multi-anvil press initiatives that will have already taken place. On the other hand, additional direct outreach may be needed during the development of the proposal to NSF. In bringing together two major programs, COMPRES and GSECARS, to form an expanded program with broader scope, the effort will be informed from the experience of consolidating other large NSF-funded programs.9,10 Bringing together this broad scientific community in a single program is an exciting prospect but also represents a major challenge. Such organizations have been launched and successfully managed in the past, engaging a broad if not even broader geoscience communities. One model is based on NSF’s decision to support a single unified geophysical facility to operate national geophysical networks on behalf of the US scientific community. This involves the merger of the Incorporated Research Institutions for Seismology (IRIS), which operates SAGE (Seismological Facility for the Advancement of Geoscience), and UNAVCO, which operates GAGE (Geodetic Facility for the Advancement of Geoscience).9,10

On the other hand, a particularly useful model is that of the Deep Carbon Observatory (DCO), a 10-year multidisciplinary program launched with core funding from the A. P. Sloan Foundation that engaged some 1200 scientists from 50 countries around the world, leveraging $50 million in support from the Sloan Foundation to generate some $600 million worldwide for this area of geoscience.14,15 The successful management of this program combined with the excellent programs established by COMPRES and GSECARS provide a framework within which to develop this new organization.

A Possible Organizational Structure Heading link

To that end, our vision is a program that borrows elements of the successful management of the DCO together with the experience of individuals who managed this program. The Principal Investigator (PI) serves as Executive Director and will be supported by a Director and administrative staff to manage the day-to-day activities of the program in the Managing Office of the host institution. Apart from the Managing Office will be a Governing Body (e.g., Executive Committee or Board of Directors, as implemented in other large NSF-funded organizations). The Governing Body might consist of the Executive Director, Director, the Chief Technology Officer (see below); the Coordinator (or Coordinators) for Training, Education, Outreach, and Diversity; Subaward Beamline/Facility Directors; and At-large Members of the User Organization. In this model all members of the Governing Body would receive some sort of compensation for their work in order to ensure engagement by the entire Committee.

It is also proposed that each of the beamline facilities receive separate subawards, thereby enabling independence of beamline activities within the same light source facility while also promoting the development of new programs at the facilities as recommended by the Governing Body. The Governing Body will also maintain a focus on future opportunities, engage with all stakeholders, and grow the program through leveraging additional support from other sources. Recognizing that funded facilities (e.g., beamlines) may serve multiple communities and have additional funding sources, our vision allows individual facilities that are funded by the new organization to manage their own programs to the greatest extent possible as long as the component of the program fund by the organization remains aligned with the organization’s geoscience goals and the needs of the geoscience user community.

The guiding principle for developing a robust and dynamic organizational structure is its ability to implement the program goals (a-i) listed above. It must attend to inherent risks to the program, while being responsive to new opportunities that will emerge as the science evolves, as discussed above. Thus, additional subawards are expected, depending on how various subdisciplines within the geosciences come together to address emerging needs and opportunities. These could consist of creation of additional beamlines, partial support for existing beamlines, or entirely new facilities that would enhance the overall mission of the new organization. On the other hand, some awards may be reduced or discontinued, depending on the needs of the organization and the user community. Growth in the program will require aggressive direct and leveraged funding efforts through NSF or other sources, including partner DOE facilities, other federal agencies, private foundations, and the commercial sector.

Proposed Host Institution and Personnel Heading link

As a Minority Serving Institution, the University of Illinois Chicago (UIC) is well positioned to lead this effort. UIC is located some 30 minutes from ANL/APS, the largest hard x-ray synchrotron facility in the United States, and is centrally located geographically. The proposed team at UIC would consist of Russell Hemley as Executive Director and PI, who is Distinguished Chair in the Natural Sciences, has a long history with the evolution of NSF funded programs that support synchrotron radiation science in geoscience, and currently manages one component of the COMPRES portfolio of facilities, the Frontier Infrared Spectroscopy (FIS) infrared beamline at NSLS-II; Craig Schiffries as Director and co-PI, who would be appointed Research Professor pending review of the plan by the Steering Committee; and Kathryn Nagy as co-PI, currently Head of the UIC Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences, and a long-time synchrotron user specializing in low-temperature geochemistry and environmental science. In addition, Stephen Gramsch, UIC Research Professor who has established new programs at UIC in training, education, outreach, and diversity, will coordinate these activities within the new organization. The administrative core would be supported by an experienced Business Manager and Administrative Assistant for web support and communications. College and University funds will cover the salaries of the Business Manager and Administrative Assistant, and the academic year salaries of Hemley and Nagy.

Additional personnel from the community would complement this group, including a Chief Technology Officer, supporting roles for Training, Education, Outreach, and Diversity, and other positions that might be identified by the community during the preparation of the proposal to NSF. The overarching goal is for the UIC team to work closely with the program Steering Committee to create a vibrant community-based organization that will serve the long-term needs of the community and indeed the nation.

Unique Strengths of UIC Heading link

As an MSI with an urban campus, more than 1/3 of UIC undergraduates are first-generation students, so the university is well poised to bring students from a variety of demographic groups to this exciting area. In addition, the College of Liberal Arts and Science (LAS) has a program to support these students called First-at-LAS. The campus has several initiatives to recruit and advance diverse faculty, including the Bridge to the Faculty Program, through which LAS has recruited minority scholars in several departments, including the sciences.

UIC has established numerous programs to enhance diversity, inclusion, and equity. These efforts seek to make opportunities for research engagement available to as broad a cross-section of the university community as possible. Examples include the Educational and Research Training Collaborative (ERTC), which was launched and is directed by members of the UIC team. L@s GANAS (Latin@s Gaining Access to Networks for Advancement in Science) is an NSF-funded initiative focused on promoting undergraduate research in a culturally-affirming context for this specific demographic of UIC students. The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences Undergraduate Research Initiative (LASURI) provides small stipends for students on a competitive basis for students to carry out research in LAS departments. Many faculty members throughout the sciences and engineering at UIC benefit from research grant supplements that support undergraduate and high school students for summer research or academic year research experiences in their laboratories. The Office of STEM Initiatives at UIC exists to raise awareness of opportunities to promote and enhance undergraduate research in relevant disciplines campus-wide. As a bridge to graduate studies, the UIC PREP program provides a gap-year experience to introduce recent graduates to scholarly activity, the scientific literature, and the graduate school experience, including the application process.

Increasing participation in synchrotron-based geoscience research, and geoscience research more broadly, on the part of students from demographic groups that are historically underrepresented in the sciences will be a primary goal of this UIC-based effort. Examples of potential initiatives include building on programs currently in place that provide day-long to even week-long experiences at synchrotron facilities and leveraging NSF REU programs. It is important to recognize that, for students from demographic groups historically underrepresented in the sciences, active and ongoing mentoring is a critical factor.16-18 Addressing this need, a different type of initiative for outreach would target high school students as well as mentoring focused on a long-term research projects throughout the undergraduate years, the latter building on our successful ERTC model, but extending this across a broad network of colleges and universities engaged in the new organization.

The programs and resources at UIC described above will be brought to bear and leveraged to support the new NSF-funded organization. The plan is backed by the University of Illinois Chicago administration, including the Dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, Vice Chancellor for Research and the UIC Chancellor. Letters of support defining specific institutional commitments will be provided depending on the outcome of this initial candidate review. The following provides additional information about the background and expertise of the proposed team of Senior Personnel from UIC who would be involved in the new organization.

Background on Senior Personnel Heading link

Russell J. Hemley is LAS Distinguished Chair in the Natural Sciences, with appointments in the Departments of Physics, Chemistry, and Earth and Environmental Sciences. He has considerable experience in geoscience, synchrotron radiation, and program management that includes a long history with the evolution of the programs described above. Hemley and his students, postdocs, and collaborators have also used nearly all of the synchrotron radiation facilities in this country including APS, CHESS, NSLS, NSLS II, ALS, and SSRL, and he has published approximately 395 articles, reviews, and edited books that involve synchrotron radiation experiments and results, from the far-IR to hard x-rays, since 1987.19-22 In addition, he has used or collaborated on experiments at major synchrotron radiation facilities around the world, including ESRF, SPRing8, Diamond, Soleil, and DESY. Hemley was a participant in the initial workshops in the late 1980s that led to the successful synergistic growth of geoscience synchrotron radiation, especially in the high-pressure geoscience field.3 He was a member of Executive Committee of the NSF STC from 1991-2002, founding member of the original GeoSync,6 co-PI on the first GeoCARS proposal, and was active in the creation of COMPRES, serving two years on its Executive Committee and later as a member of its Infrastructure Development Committee. He has been the PI of the high-pressure infrared program at BNL since 1994 and throughout the period of its support by COMPRES. In addition, he helped launch the HPCAT facility and was a PI or co-PI on numerous grants that supported the facility from 1999 to 2014.

Hemley’s management experience includes a term as Director of the Geophysical Laboratory, Carnegie Institution of Washington, for six years, where he succeeded in doubling the budget of the department over the course of that time. This growth was accomplished in part by the successful founding and growth of the Carnegie/DOE Alliance Center (CDAC) beginning in 2003, and which remains in place today as the Chicago/DOE Alliance Center. In 2009 He also helped launch and manage EFree, a DOE Energy Frontier Research Center, first as Associate Director and later as full Director over the course of nine years. He was also a co-PI of the Spallation Neutrons at Pressure (SNAP) high pressure instrument at the Spallation Neutron Source, ORNL, and promoted its use by partnering EFree with SNAP to enhance its user base. He has also served on numerous DOE laboratory (including synchrotron facility) review committees since the 1980s.

In 2009, he assisted Robert Hazen in launching and managing the highly successful Deep Carbon Observatory; in naming the program, he helped define its scope and organizational structure, including proposing its four Science Communities, Fluxes and Resources, Deep Life, Deep Energy, and Extreme Physics and Chemistry.15 Together with Craig Schiffries as its Director, he also helped to expand the outreach nationally (including to DOE laboratories) and internationally and worked closely with the sponsor in the Sloan Foundation to successfully leverage its funding to grow the program, as discussed below. Additional management experience includes serving as the Chair of the JASON Advisory Group for four years, managing and coordinating the activities of 60 scientists conducting studies for a number of US government agencies (including NSF and DOE), and helping the program Director oversee a full time office staff of eight. He has been on the JASON Steering Committee for the past 12 years.

Craig M. Schiffries has a sustained record of success in building and strengthening scientific organizations, programs, and communities through his leadership positions at the Deep Carbon Observatory, Geological Society of America (GSA), National Council for Science and the Environment (NCSE), National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine (NASEM), and American Geosciences Institute (AGI). In 2019, he received GSA’s Public Service Award, which cites his “exceptional, selfless, and transformative contributions to the Earth Science community.”

During his tenure as Director, the Deep Carbon Observatory achieved goals that are directly relevant to the success of the new organization, including: (a) conducting transformational research on the quantities, forms, movements, and origins of carbon in Earth’s deep interior, including numerous studies based on experiments at synchrotron radiation facilities; (b) publishing more than 1,600 peer-reviewed scientific papers, including 118 papers in Science, Nature, and PNAS, documenting novel results of broad interest beyond traditional scientific disciplines; (c) developing a portfolio of novel scientific instrumentation; (d) achieving extensive broader impacts, such as capturing the imagination of global audiences through news articles about DCO science that reached more than two billion people; (e) fostering a diverse, international, and interdisciplinary community of more than 1,200 geologists, physicists, chemists, and biologists in over 50 countries; (f) establishing a program to increase participation of underrepresented minority U.S geoscientists in the DCO; (g) creating training opportunities, including summer schools, early career scientist workshops, and a Gordon Research Conference on Deep Carbon Science; (h) establishing successful mechanisms for addressing priority science questions and goals as well as planning, implementation, and oversight; (i) coordinating and managing DCO’s four Science Communities, four crosscutting activities, five cross-community teams, and numerous research projects under the guidance of the DCO Executive Committee; (j) integrating data science, data services, and computational resources across the program and fostering a culture of FAIR data and open access publications; and (k) leveraging a pledge of $50 million over ten years from the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation with more than $600 million of support from other organizations worldwide, as described above.14

Schiffries has served as a member of the U.S. National Commission for UNESCO, U.S. National Committee for the International Year of Planet Earth, External Advisory Board of the European Union’s Horizon 2020 project on Science for Clean Energy, and DCO Executive Committee, among other national and international professional service. He was Co-chair of the USGS Coalition and President of the Geological Society of Washington. For 18 years, he served as Chair of the Marshall Scholarship Selection Committee in Washington, DC and a member of the British Ambassador’s Advisory Council on Marshall Scholarships. He also served on selection committees for the Truman Scholarship, Gates Cambridge Scholarship, and Intel Science Talent Search.

Kathryn L. Nagy is a Professor of Earth and Environmental Sciences at UIC and a long time synchrotron radiation user with an interest in low temperature geochemistry and environmental science. Complementing Hemley’s high-pressure geoscience research, Nagy investigates geochemical and biogeochemical reactions relevant to environmental and geological systems. Her research is primarily experimental using natural materials, and she has co-authored 37 papers in which synchrotron x-ray scattering and spectroscopic approaches were applied to advance understanding of metal adsorption and surface precipitation on silicate and carbonate minerals, interactions among mercury, sulfur, and natural organic matter, mercury accumulation in organisms, and toxic metals in the environment. She has worked with her students, post-docs, and collaborators at the APS, ALS, and ESRF using techniques including x-ray reflectivity (XR and RAXR), high-energy x-ray Scattering (HEXS), EXAFS, XANES and high energy-resolution XANES (HR-XANES or HERFD-XANES). One research theme, supported by DOE-BES and NSF EAR, has focused on application of x-ray reflectivity, including time-resolved RAXR, to quantify metal adsorption in muscovite mica.23 Another, supported by multiple grants from NSF EAR, has centered on the complex reactions between divalent mercury and thiol sulfur in the environment and living organisms. Discoveries within this theme have included evidence that metacinnabar (b-HgS) can form directly from divalent mercury bonded to thiol sulfur in natural organic matter under oxidizing conditions without microbial mediation24 and that fish can acquire nonmethylated divalent mercury associated with dissolved organic matter.25 Recent work has also shown that mercury is demethylated by the same mechanism involving selenium in multiple animals (water bird, fish, and earthworm).26

Nagy has been the Head of the Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences since 2012, overseeing a faculty of 9-13, MS and PhD programs, and a BS program with a diverse undergraduate cohort of about 100/year. In addition to her scientific program, she is currently involved in education research through an NSF IUSE Geopaths project and an EHR DRL project collaborative with Chicago Public Schools chemistry teachers and Environmental Justice organizations titled “Youth Participatory Science to Address Heavy Metal Contamination.” Her vision for the department is to expand the faculty in the areas of biogeochemistry, climate change science, and geohealth research, and to enlarge the department’s ongoing commitment to
increasing diversity in the geosciences.

Stephen A. Gramsch is a Research Professor in the Department of Chemistry at UIC. He has served as the Deputy Director/Education and Outreach Coordinator of CDAC since 2003 and has an established track record in undergraduate and graduate student training as well as high school training and outreach. He has also coordinated beam time at APS/HPCAT for CDAC students and collaborators. During this time, 83 graduate students have received the PhD degree with CDAC support, and 26 of these have moved to postdoc or staff positions in the DOE/NNSA laboratories alone, with numerous other students moving to other national laboratories as well as academic institutions where they are now part of the synchrotron-based geoscience community training their own students. He ran an impactful REU program at Carnegie for 13 years, first supported by NSF EAR and later by DOE/NNSA. Over 50% of the students participating in the program presented their results at national scientific meetings, and over 75% of the students went on to pursue graduate studies; notably, 65% of the participants in this program during this time were women. From 2003-2012, Gramsch also taught chemistry courses at a 100% minority public charter high school (César Chávez PCHS) in Washington, DC, where he helped to develop the school’s scientific curriculum and built its chemistry laboratory capabilities. Together with Hemley, Gramsch is implementing new programs at UIC focusing on undergraduate research experiences for students from underrepresented groups at the university.
This includes the Educational and Research Training Collaborative (ERTC) described above, which he manages. This effort provides 24 undergraduates at UIC with a long-term, intensive scientific research experience as an integral part of their undergraduate studies. The ERTC already supports undergraduates in environmental science and geobiology, and this program would be leveraged in support of the new organization, e.g., by introducing additional students to synchrotron geoscience.

Outlook and Perspective Heading link

The NSF call for a for a major new program to develop, manage, operate, and support user access to U.S. synchrotron-based capabilities for Earth and environmental sciences research and training presents exiting opportunities for the geoscience community as a whole. Building on the successes of the two existing major, highly impactful programs that support synchrotron activities in these fields, COMPRES and GSECARS, and expanding the focus to areas such as geobiology, low-temperature geochemistry, environmental science, and rock physics will enable the field to address the priority science questions and societal grand challenges identified the NAS Earth in Time report. The proposed effort based at the University of Illinois Chicago takes advantage of its expertise in geoscience, synchrotron radiation techniques and programs, and training and outreach, including providing opportunities for students from underrepresented groups. Working closely with the Steering Committee of the new organization, the UIC team will develop a plan that can address the full suite of the science priorities outlined in Earth in Time and fully aligned with its recommendations.

The plan will implement new modalities for user access, particularly for underrepresented groups, and work to increase diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging in the geoscience synchrotron radiation community. A paramount goal in fact is to enhance engagement at all career levels, including students, early- to mid-career scientists, and established professionals in using these facilities through training, outreach, and education. The plan will implement a structure that will attempt to balance priorities across basic science, societal challenges, and advancing techniques. The structure must allow for seizing opportunities for new initiatives as the science evolves in the coming years, using core NSF funding to leverage these new programs with support from other potential sources. Being responsive to the community and commensurate with funding, the plan should allow for expanded scope to include non-synchrotron facilities used for Earth and environmental sciences, including neutron scattering, next generation light sources, and large laser facilities. The plan must also proactively engage the broader geoscience and synchrotron radiation communities in order to remain at the forefront of scientific and technological developments worldwide. Finally, the plan must lead to a program that is vigilant in its outreach to the general public and policymakers in order to articulate the value of geoscience research at synchrotron radiation and related facilities to the nation.

References Heading link

1 A Vision for NSF Earth Sciences 2020-2030: Earth in Time (The National Academies Press, 2020).

2 Earth Materials Research (The National Academies Press, 1987).

3 Facilities for Earth Materials Research (The National Academies Press, 1990).

4 Bassett, W. A. Synchrotron radiation, an intense x-ray source for high pressure diffraction studies. Phys. Earth & Planet. Inter. 23, 337-340 (1980).

5 Smith, J. V., Rivers, M. L., Sutton, S. R., Jones, K. W., Hanson, A. L. & Gordon, B. M. in 11th Intern. Congress on X-ray Optics and Microanalysis (1986) pp. 163-168.

6 Smith, J. V. & Manghnani, M. H. Synchrotron X-ray Sources and New Opportunities in the Earth Sciences: Workshop Report. Argonne National Laboratory, Lemont, IL (1988).

7 Drell, P., Bonnell, D. A., Chen, J., Clark, S., Cuenya, B. R., Dosch, H., Friend, C., Gao, Y., Hammes-Schiffer, S., Kastner, M., Kay, B., Leone, S. R., Louca, D., de la Cruz, M. O., Ourmazd, A., Piot, P., Robertson, I., Rollett, A., Ross, F., Rubloff, G., Santore, M., Takeuchi, E. S., Tranquada, J. & Wasserman, S. A Remarkable Return on Investment in Fundamental Research: 40 Years of Basic Energy Sciences at the Department of Energy (DOE-BES, 2018).

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