The program started from conversations
between Iran Thomas, the late Deputy Director of the DOE’s Office of Basic
Energy Sciences, SSRL Director Keith Hodgson, former SSRL Director Artie
Bienenstock and Russ Chianelli, UTEP chemistry professor and chair of
SSRL’s proposal review panel.
The idea came in part from several government reports pointing to the
rapid growth of the Hispanic population in the U.S. and to an inadequate
future workforce in science, engineering and technology.
"A lot of federal agencies want to know where the next generation of
scientists and engineers will come from," said Chianelli, Gateway’s UTEP
faculty director. "Many of the Gateway students have never been out of the
El Paso area, and certainly not seen something like a synchrotron. They
are seeing a bigger world. They have done extremely well."
Masters, graduate and even undergraduate students are in UTEP’s
interdisciplinary programs: Materials Science and Engineering, and
Environmental Science and Engineering.
Gateway graduate students have to write a proposal to gain access to
time on one of the SSRL beam lines. UTEP Professor Nicholas Pingitore
teaches a proposal writing course. Gateway pays the students’ way to SSRL,
where they learn to carry out experiments at a synchrotron source. The
scientific results from analyzing these data go into their theses. Some 40
students have been trained during approximately 120 trips here since the
program began in 1999.
SSRL’s beam line scientists, including Apurva Mehta and John Pople,
work directly with the students on their experimental set-up. "I interface
with them as with any other graduate students," said Pople. "I’m just on
hand a little more to talk them through the processes and give them
background on physics and data collection and analysis because they don’t
necessarily have the same knowledge base." He added, "They’re bright,
they’re extremely eager to learn and very hardworking."
Gateway students and professors return the compliments. "People at SSRL
are always so helpful and patient and want to know about your projects and
find out what you need," Perez said.
Perez works with chemical catalysts that take sulfur out of oil to
produce lower-emission gasoline. Her synchrotron studies of the catalyst
overturned the picture of how the catalysts operate, and suggested using
synchrotron tools along with more standard techniques to better understand
She was one of three Gateway students to present SSRL-based research at
SSRL’s 30th Annual Users Meeting in a special tribute session for Thomas,
who died earlier this year.
In addition to building valuable skills, experience and better
research, Gateway has encouraged studies of Mexican art and archeology.
One student, Lori Pole.e, used synchrotron light to examine the mysterious
and beautiful pigment Maya Blue, used by ancient Meso Americans. She found
its secret: a stable combination of indigo and clay, and now has a Ph.D.
and private funding to start producing the pigment commercially.
The Gateway program reflects Chianelli’s philosophy, which Pople
describes as, "Do not let a lack of money or a poor country’s economy
determine who can get a Ph.D. Let’s get talent from wherever we can."
To learn more about Iran Thomas, see:
For more information on Gateway see: