The Cornell High Energy Synchrotron Source, CHESS, has reopened for researchers after a long shutdown due to CoVID-19. Users who typically travel from all over the world to perform research at CHESS are now able to study their samples by logging in remotely from their home institution.
All seven CHESS beamlines are equipped with remote access via NoMachine, a user-friendly interface to allow quick remote access to a station computer. During multiple “stress tests” by the IT, scientific and operations teams, remote access proved to be just as seamless as sitting in the lab.
As lightsources around the world are impacted by the pandemic - either closed to users or partially reopening - this current experimental run for CHESS has garnered a lot of interest from users, with more proposals and beamtime requests than previous years.
With this amount of interest, CHESS has been implementing new access capabilities to accommodate the demand while also keeping staff and users safe.
“We can't do everything that we normally do, we can still do great things with remote operations,” says CHESS Director Joel Brock. “If I was able to visit the lab, I would pat everyone at CHESS on the back. We are learning how to run [the lab] with social distancing for our staff and full remote operations for our users. Things are going fantastic,” he adds.
CHESS staff has established the foundation for remote access and made it easy for users to adapt to the new model. An instructional guide offers a step-by-step tutorial for users to prepare for their remote experiment, which was highlighted in a virtual town hall for those users planning to run experiments during the fall run.
Users can ship their samples to CHESS by using interactive forms and shipping labels, ensuring that the samples arrive at their correct beamlines - with some needing immediate attention such as refrigeration. This has required a heightened level of coordination across departments while most staff continue to work remotely.
To help remote users ‘see’ what's happening, multiple cameras have been installed in the experimental hutches. These cameras, paired with software upgrades, will help perform tasks such as aligning pieces of equipment in the hutches remotely.
Since remote users are not able to immediately turn to CHESS staff to answer questions, users are able to request support from CHESS operators and scientists through a new online ticketing system REACH CHESS that is monitored 24 hours a day. And of course, users are able to receive help through the now-ubiquitous avenues of Zoom and other video conferencing platforms.
The lab partially restarted operations in June to conduct research related to treatment of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, and other essential research before shutting down for scheduled summer maintenance.
Building on experience gained in the June run, CLASSE-IT has spent the summer putting together a suite of remote access tools for the upcoming fall run. During this intense two-month period, CHESS staff and scientists met frequently, initially to brainstorm and decide on a path forward, and then to collaborate on an implementation. With a lot to accomplish in a short amount of time, the team was able to make progress very quickly.
“At this point, having successfully stress-tested our new tools, I feel that we are as prepared as we can be for full-scale remote user operations,” says Werner Sun, CLASSE IT Director. “I look forward to helping our users make the most of their beam time in this exciting new run,” he adds.
CHESS is working creatively under these unusual circumstances to deliver unique experimental capabilities to its users.