A young computer programmer was surprised by not one, but two awards for building systems crucial to running the lab's magnets.

Undergrad streamlines maintenance routine with touch-screen technology

The culmination of years of hard work, the dissertation defense is as much an ordeal as it is a ritual.

This week at the lab, Peng Chen starts a new job at the Applied Superconductivity Center (ASC), where he will contribute to developing a groundbreaking magnet with bismuth-strontium-calcium-copper-oxide (Bi-2212), a promising high-temperature superconductor.

Chen's new job sounds a lot like his old job: building a groundbreaking magnet at the ASC with Bi-2212. The main difference is that last week, Chen was still a graduate research assistant. This week, he is a postdoctoral research associate, having graduated Saturday from Florida State University (FSU) with a Ph.D. in mechanical engineering.

"I can relax a little bit," laughed Chen, who has put in long hours over the past several months writing and revising his thesis.

In addition to designing and building world-record magnets used by scientists from across the globe, the MagLab has an important educational mission. This includes training early-career scientists like Chen. It's not by accident that undergraduates, graduate students and postdocs make up 40 percent of the lab's staff.

Since arriving here from China five years ago, Chen has experienced an intense, hands-on education among the team building a Bi-2212-based, high-field, high-homogeneity nuclear magnetic resonance magnet dubbed the Platypus. ASC Director David Larbalestier, who is Chen's advisor, said Chen has shown a lot of grit in the face of tough technical problems that come with building a first-of-its-kind instrument. In fact, ASC is hoping to get a patent out of a fully superconducting joint Chen built for the Platypus.

"He combines an engineering viewpoint with a strong desire to understand what he is doing, which makes his approach to complex technical problems very valuable," said Larbalestier, who placed the blue doctoral hood on Chen during his graduation ceremony to signify his former student’s new status.

Chen said he is looking forward to his new role on the team.

"In the transition from student to postdoc, you have more freedom," said Chen. "It's not only about your dissertation; you have more choices to do different aspects of the project and to collaborate with other teammates to support them — take more responsibility. I have a feeling I will do more and broaden my duties."


Text by Kristen Coyne / Photo courtesy of Peng Chen.

Young scientists learning the ropes find they get by better with a little help from their fellow students, postdocs and colleagues.

This week at the lab, 17 students from Tallahassee area schools are starting the Middle School Mentorship program. For the rest of the semester, these students will spend every Friday morning in a laboratory setting working on a science project with a MagLab mentor. The 10-week experience will culminate in a public presentation of their research attended by lab scientists and researchers, teachers, parents and the general public. Representing eight different schools, this year's crop of "mentees" is the largest and most diverse in recent memory, said program coordinator Carlos Villa.

Photo by Stephen Bilenky

Postdocs face big challenges as they learn the ropes of real-life science. The MagLab and other institutions are doing more to help them make the most of these years of intensive training.

When a Florida teacher had the chance to spend a second summer doing research at the MagLab, he didn’t have to think twice.

Jim Brooks was a mentor to practically everyone he met. His life was a primer for educators everywhere on how to groom better scientists — and better people.

Six teenagers from Leon County public schools spent their Fridays at the MagLab this fall, learning to use high-tech equipment and problem-solve in a world-class laboratory.