The Swedish Institute (SI) offered a scholarship-based training programme at MAX IV in 2019 for researchers from the eight Middle Eastern countries affiliated with SESAME—Synchotron-light for Experimental Science and Applications in the Middle East—light source located in Jordan. During the autumn, two visiting researchers participated in the programme for practical learning, experience, and knowledge exchange with MAX IV colleagues and beamline users.
MAX IV interviewed the candidates, Saeed Saedy and Neama Imam, about their experiences and thoughts on the training.
Saeed Saedy is a PhD in nanotechnology from Iran who participated in the programme for one month in September and October. Saeed worked with the groups at HIPPIE and Balder beamlines. His background is in chemical engineering, and his research focus is on heterogeneous catalysis, both electrochemical and thermochemical catalysis.
Why were you interested in the scholarship training opportunity at MAX IV?
I wrote my proposal for MAX IV to get training in 3 techniques as related to my research and I will need them for my future work: ambient pressure X-ray photoelectron spectroscopy (AP-XPS), X-ray absorption spectroscopy (XAS), and X-ray diffraction (XRD). Based on the decision of the evaluation committee my scholarship was for work with HIPPIE beamline, which is specialised for ambient pressure XPS. Learning about these methods is a good opportunity for me to improve my skills and pave my way to become an independent researcher. This was the main motivation for me to apply for this scholarship.
Currently, I’m working on electrochemical reduction of carbon dioxide to fuels and valuable chemicals. So, converting CO2, which is nowadays the problem of our globe, to something useful. Such chemical transformation occurs at the surface of catalysts, and to study this we need some advanced techniques such as XPS. There is a good opportunity at HIPPIE beamline for ambient pressure XPS, where we can study catalytic materials in-situ during a real reaction. During my visit at HIPPIE, I learned how to use this for my own research.
It’s one of the best techniques for the study of the surface of materials, and any catalytic reaction in heterogeneous systems. Using AP-XPS, we are able to study the surface and near surface of catalytic materials during pre-treatment and catalytic reactions. There is a good advantage in synchrotron radiation facilities in that we can tune the energy of X-rays, to have a different energy of photons on our sample. We can study the surface at different depths also.
What knowledge have you gained from the programme?
I know exactly what I am looking for, I know the abilities and capabilities of these machines and what kind of information I can obtain because sometimes a machine is much more, can do more, than we think. What I did at HIPPIE was much more useful than measuring my own samples. I learned how to use the machine, and how to become an independent user somehow.
There are lots of kind scientists in MAX Lab, so I had frequent opportunity to ask them questions. For my own research, in addition to ambient pressure XPS, I need to use X-ray absorption spectroscopy techniques that we have at Balder beamline. I went there several times and met kind people—Constantine, Kajsa, Susan. For example, Susan tried to teach me a software they use for data treatment, Constantine helped me with some of my questions, Kajsa as well, because for my own research I need to design a special reaction chamber, an electrochemical cell, to put my samples in and do the measurements.
I spent three weeks at HIPPIE beamline. Andrey, the beamline manager, kindly showed me all of important parts of HIPPIE: the undulator, main optics, and end stations. He answered all of my questions about XPS. One good thing that happened, in my second week at HIPPIE, a group of users came from Finland. They had beamtime and did experiments in electrochemistry. They were working on similar topics that I’m doing now, and with similar experiments. They kindly invited me to observe, and I learned a lot from them. This was a real example of how we can use HIPPIE for such studies. I was quite happy because there was an option to see what I can do.
There was a good opportunity for me here to also learn about the synchrotron. I had the chance to walk around, talk to lots of people not only at HIPPIE, but in the whole of MAX IV lab, so I learned a lot about the synchrotron radiation. For example, how we generate the electron beam, how we maintain it inside the storage ring, and how the insertion objects are making the radiation, and then how the optics work.
It is worth noting that I took the opportunity to be in Lund and MAX IV and I participated in an extended X-ray absorption fine structure (EXAFS) training program at MAX IV that was quite helpful for improve my knowledge about XAS methods.
What advice would you give other researchers about the experience at MAX IV?
First of all, I would recommend to anyone, if they have an opportunity, come and visit even for one week because there’s lots of things to learn. If anyone is coming here for a long-term stay, I would recommend coming prepared. Make a bit of study about the facility and the concepts. Check the beamlines. Define your objectives and goals, make a list. You know yourself what you are doing, and you know what you need to learn from a synchrotron. You know which one of the beamlines are useful for you, your future career and research.
You can make it quite fruitful when you have several objectives and goals. It’s not just a visit just for the sake of a visit. It’s a visit for learning and improving experience and for transferring the knowledge.
There is a very good opportunity for networking because people here are very experienced. The beamline scientists and beamline managers, they have worked in this field for several years.
I believe that doing experiments even as a user at a synchrotron facility is not just doing a simple experiment. It’s an opportunity for learning because always there is something new, and as a scientist we should learn every day.
What are your plans after the programme?
I have started a new Post Doc position at Delft University of Technology in the Netherlands. There I will try to introduce MAX Lab to my new colleagues and tell them about the available opportunities, and what they can do here. I will also start to design my experimental electrochemical cell and some experiments based on what I will have there. I plan to write several proposals to work on experiments at SPECIES, Balder and HIPPIE beamlines.
As a general goal, I would like to stay in academia and become an independent researcher, maybe a professor. From here, I will focus on improving myself in this field. The 3 techniques usually available at synchrotron facilities (XPS, XAS, XRD) are really helpful for scientific studies in heterogeneous catalysis, and fortunately I had the chance of learning two techniques here.