Supporting Industrial clients in their use of Spectroscopy Techniques
In this series of articles, we would like to introduce to you members of the Industrial Liaison team. They perform an important role within Diamond, working with our industrial clients to make sure they quickly achieve actionable results to meet their organisational needs.
In this article, we shine a spotlight on Anna Kroner, a senior industrial liaison scientist, responsible for helping companies with Spectroscopy experiments at Diamond.
Anna is a specialist in X-ray Absorption Spectroscopy (XAS). Her main role is to provide support to industrial users wishing to use spectroscopic techniques at Diamond to solve their industrial challenges. She has worked at a number of national and international facilities and feels very privileged to have worked with the amazing scientists based there.
Tell us how you came to work at Diamond?
I have been working at Diamond for 11 years. Prior to joining the industrial team at Diamond, I completed my PhD at the University of Southampton. The project was a joint collaboration between the university and the European Synchrotron Radiation Facility (ESRF) in Grenoble. My project was dedicated to time-resolved, operando studies of ceria and zirconia doping on Rh-based catalysts. These materials are typically used as a three-way catalyst - a main component of catalytic converters in petrol-driven vehicles. During my stay at the ESRF I had a great experience working on the beamline and setting up complex, tailored experiments for academic and industrial users. My biggest achievement was to support industrial experiments, focused on studying emission control catalysts, led by Toyota Motor Corporation from Japan.
What does your typical day-to-day work look like?
Within my role I cover a range of different responsibilities, thus every day is different and it is far from routine. One day I can meet with a customer to discuss their enquiries and design their experiments at Diamond. On another day I will work on the beamline and carry out spectroscopy experiments along with my clients, or on their behalf. Once a successful experiment has been completed, I dedicate my day to data analysis. The XAS technique is often used in operando studies, wherein a sample is measured online under continuously changing conditions. Hence, some of my time is spent in the laboratory working on the development and testing of sample environments, which are subsequently used for experiments on the beamline.
Which industries do you work with?/
My main clients are based in the chemical and catalysis sector. As spectroscopy techniques are used in a wide range of applications, I also coordinate work for companies in the environmental, energy, nuclear, pharmaceutical and consumer products fields.
What are the key challenges that these industries face?
The main challenge for most companies that come to us and are interested in spectroscopy, is dealing with non-crystalline samples, whose chemical speciation cannot be easily studied using standard lab-based techniques. XAS can easily solve this problem, as it is an element-sensitive technique where we can probe the local structure and electronic properties of selected elements without considering the physical state of the sample.
In addition, for customers from chemical and catalysis industries, it is critical to gain a better understanding of the chemical reaction mechanism or deactivation phenomena. Therefore, the high flux beam accessible at Diamond opens the door for gaining better knowledge of sample structural changes when running experiments under various conditions using a dedicated and often purposely-built sample environment.
How does Diamond support the research of these companies?
The industrial team at Diamond is formed of scientists that specialise in a range of different techniques available at the facility. Any enquiries we received are assigned to the scientist with the most relevant expertise; they are therefore in the best position to discuss the feasibility and experimental design, and ultimately to deliver a successful project.
The unique position of the industrial team at Diamond, when compared to other facilities, is the fact that we provide the first point of contact for industrial users. Customers facing complex challenges can get support from our team using multiple techniques at the same time. This may reduce the amount of time needed to complete the project and can provide a more complete picture of the studied systems.
In addition, we offer a range of different access modes such as full-service, mail-in, remote access and beamtime only. As we are all scientists, we also devote some of our time to collaborative research, and participate in UKRI and EU-funded projects together with our industrial partners. Participation in this type of collaborative work allows our industrial users to get involved in the development of methodology, sample environments, and to work on proof of principle research before moving onto the study of commercial samples. With a range of access levels available, our customers can choose the way in which they want to work with us on specific projects.
How does the Industry team add value?
The primary role of the industrial team at Diamond is to facilitate beamtime for our industrial users and support them in using the synchrotron and microscopes available. In our everyday work, we offer both technical and scientific expertise to customers in solving industrial problems. We provide training in sample handling, data acquisition, and data analysis, helping our users become more independent in using the beamline. By having direct interaction with customers we are able to contribute to the development of industrial products/processes.
If I had to choose one thing, I think our customers most value the flexibility of working with us on different levels. Our experienced users can opt to work independently when running their own experiments, with minimal intervention from us, or they can choose to engage more closely with us if scientific support is needed. On the other hand, new synchrotron users appreciate access to scientific expertise across different disciplines and techniques.
What is the most challenging part of your job?
Spectroscopy measurements are often carried out ex situ to provide complex information on various materials. However, the biggest advantage of applying these techniques at the Diamond synchrotron is the possibility to perform them under in situ conditions. Most in situ experiments I conduct are based on bespoke set-ups and sample preparation. This requires good planning from my side, with preparation and clear communication between the customer and the beamline team. There are always challenges that I need to tackle, such as setting up a new sample environment and optimising the desired environmental conditions. Nevertheless, finding a solution gives me great satisfaction!
What is the most rewarding part of your job?
There are many aspects of my work that I find rewarding. I am passionate about science and being involved in applied research as I can use my skills and experience to solve industrial problems across many different disciplines. At the same time I learn so much about new technological innovations every day. I think the most rewarding part of my job is seeing delighted customers after successfully completing complex projects.
Are there any stand-out projects?
There have been a few industrial projects that I am very proud to have worked on. Perhaps, the most rewarding project on which I recently worked was a study on a catalytic process under operando conditions. The project involved new synchrotron users so I led the project from beginning to end, starting from the design of the experiment, to planning the beamtime and carrying out preparatory work. Since the experiment had to be carried out under in situ conditions, I was also required to set up a dedicated sample environment and perform the necessary testing. Throughout each step, I continued to consult with the users and provided training on the technique as well as conduct data analysis. The project was successfully delivered and it was very rewarding to receive positive feedback from the customers.
What would you say to other companies thinking of using Diamond's Industry services?
If you have an industrial problem related to sample structure or composition please get in touch with our team to explore the possibility of using our synchrotron and microscope facilities at Diamond. We are a dedicated industrial group with a wide range of expertise. After discussing your challenges, we will assess technical feasibility and recommend the appropriate approach to tackle this issue.
I believe some companies think they need expertise in using synchrotron techniques. This is certainly not the case as the industrial team can support users in designing their experiment, as well as executing data collection and analysis.
Diamond Light Source is the UK's national synchrotron science facility, located at the Harwell Science and Innovation Campus in Oxfordshire.
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