October 27, 2011

Annual Users Conference Honors SSRL Deputy Director, Inspires Photon Poetry

Annual Users Conference Honors SSRL Deputy Director, Inspires Photon Poetry

By Helen Shen

Piero Pianetta, deputy director of the Stanford Synchrotron Radiation Lightsource, was honored with the 2011 Farrel W. Lytle Award on Oct. 24, during the 2011 SSRL/LCLS Annual Users’ Meeting at SLAC. 

The award ceremony capped the third day of the users’ meeting, which drew more than 300 registered participants. During five days of workshops and talks, attendees learned about the basics of light source science; recent and planned upgrades to SSRL and the Linac Coherent Light Source; and research opportunities in catalysis, protein crystallography, materials science and other fields. The sessions also highlighted recent research by some of the 1,800 scientists who come to use these facilities each year.

The Lytle Award was established in 1998 to recognize technical or scientific achievements in synchrotron radiation-based science, as well as efforts to promote collaboration and efficiency at SSRL.

“I’ve given quite a few of these away,” a surprised Pianetta said after receiving the award Monday night. “When you’re the recipient, it’s really quite something.” He said the award will live in his office “in a place of honor,” next to the door where he can see it as he comes and goes.

Beth Wurzburg, who chairs the SSRL Users Organization Executive Committee, presented the award and read from letters submitted in support of Pianetta’s nomination. In addition to his experience in experimental techniques and his talent for instrumentation development, Pianetta was recognized for his kind and responsible leadership. Colleagues cited his commitment to the well-being of “every single user” of SSRL and his everyday presence on the experimental floor.

Farrel Lytle, for whom the award is named, traveled from Nevada to congratulate Pianetta – one of Lytle’s earliest friends and colleagues at SSRL. He followed the winner to the podium to be the first to shake his hand and to give an impromptu introduction.

In accepting the award, Pianetta recounted the humble beginnings of SSRL, including his own graduate work – an early proof of concept that synchrotron radiation could be harnessed to study atoms and molecules.

Four students also won  awards for their poster presentations: Samuel Wilson and Inna Vishik, both of Stanford University, and Catherine Graves and Roopali Kukreja, from SLAC.

A new feature of the users’ conference was a “poster slam” where students gave rapid-fire, one-minute summaries of their poster presentations.  The most literary entry came from SLAC’s Mina Bionta, who described her research at the LCLS, titled “Spectral encoding of X-ray/optical relative delay," in the form of several haikus:


Spectral encoding

Ten femtosec'nd RMS

Measurement error


Ultrafast X-ray pump

Semiconductor membrane

Changes transmission


Ultrafast laser probe

Temporally chirped continuum

Transmits spectral change


Single-shot measure

X-ray to laser delay

Of arrival time


The gathering, which concluded Wednesday, could be summed up in a final haiku:


Physicists convene

Sharing cutting-edge research

Exploring future


Helen Shen is a science-communications intern (and an impromptu poet) at SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory.


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2011 Lytle Award Presentation
Piero Pianetta, winner of the 2011 Farrel W. Lytle Award, was honored Monday for his "strong contributions to SSRL's unique spirit" and his expertise in synchrotron radiation-based science. The SSRL deputy director was personally congratulated by longtime friend and colleague Farrel Lytle, for whom the Lytle award is named. (Photo by Kelen Tuttle)