Chasing Synchrotron Radiation Around the World

  What do you do when almost every piece of equipment you need for your research can only be found overseas? The answer’s pretty obvious – you go overseas. That’s what MacDiarmid Institute Associate Investigator Bridget Ingham did. After completing her PhD at Victoria, under the supervision of Professors Jeff Tallon and Alan Kaiser, she headed for Imperial College London and the California-based Stanford Synchrotron Radiation Lightsource. Following two years of post-doctoral study she returned to New Zealand to become the technical director of the New Zealand Synchrotron Group. New Zealand doesn’t have a synchrotron facility of its own – there are only twenty to thirty facilities in the world. The large particle accelerators have many applications across a broad range of disciplines, but are hugely expensive, often requiring multi-country collaborations in construction as well as research. New Zealand has contributed funding for the nearest facility, based in Melbourne. For Bridget that’s an improvement from her post-doc work in 2005-7 when the nearest facilities were in Taiwan, Japan and California. Becoming an expert in synchrotron radiation instrumentation, and its application in investigating nanomaterials, has involved a lot of flying. Travel is an important part of being a research scientist. While much is made of online collaborations and virtual instrumentation, meeting people and getting hands-on time on actual equipment is vital. For example, last year Ingham had a precious three day opportunity to work at the Advanced Photon Source (APS), the largest facility in North America and one of only two in the world able to work at the 5-10K degree temperatures necessary for examining the properties of the superconducting material under study. Now a senior scientist at Callaghan Innovation, Bridget is once more working with MacDiarmid Principal Investigator Jeff Tallon, and superconductor analysis is part of their joint research. Some 5,000 scientists from around the world – students and Nobel Prize laureates alike – travel each year to the Argonne National Laboratory in Illinois which hosts the APS. Working alongside researchers there, and participating in meetings such as the AMN6 Conference recently held in Auckland, provides a boost, whether in formal collaborations or chance meetings over coffee. “There’s something about sitting down with someone and both scribbling on the same piece of paper that stimulates ideas, and that’s impossible to do electronically,” says Bridget.