Berkeley Lab Pioneer in Synchrotron Techniques and Tools Receives DOE Secretary’s Award

Zahid Hussain holds his DOE Secretary’s Distinguished Service Award certif

Zahid Hussain holds his DOE Secretary’s Distinguished Service Award certificate. (Credit: Berkeley Lab)

Zahid Hussain is honored with the Secretary’s Distinguished Service Award during a surprise ceremony

Zahid Hussain, a longtime scientist at the Department of Energy’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab), has always been more focused on achievements than accolades, though his lists run long in both categories.

His fingerprints are on many of the instruments and scientific milestones at Berkeley Lab’s Advanced Light Source (ALS), which produces many types of light, from infrared to X-rays, for a range of experiments carried out by visiting scientists from around the world. He has pioneered soft X-ray techniques and instrumentation at the ALS that have been widely adopted by the global scientific community.

On Jan. 10, Hussain’s colleagues gathered for a surprise ceremony to present the DOE Secretary’s Distinguished Service Award. The award, which includes a certificate and medallion, is one of the highest scientific honors given by Energy Secretary Rick Perry. It recognizes "continuous and distinctive achievements... within or beyond an individual’s area of responsibility, which are of substantial value" to the DOE.

Hussain began working at the ALS during the facility’s construction in 1989, retiring from the ALS Division during the facility’s 25th anniversary year last year - on the eve of a new upgrade project known as the ALS Upgrade or ALS-U. He has since taken on a new role in the Lab’s Materials Sciences Division.

Hussain’s time at Berkeley Lab dates back to his postdoctoral research from 1979 to 1981 under Dave Shirley, who would serve as the Lab’s director from 1980 to 1989.

Born in Pakistan, Hussain excelled in the sciences as a young student. "I had a very good teacher who mentored me in the sciences. One thing I realized is that to be a good scientist, you need to understand not just the physics and the chemistry but also the mathematics - and math is the father of all of the sciences," he said.

He received a master’s degree in physical chemistry from the University of Islamabad in Pakistan in 1974 and a Ph.D. in physical chemistry from the University of Hawaii in 1979.

The ALS began operating in 1993, and four years later Hussain was elevated to lead the Scientific Support Group, which would guide the science direction for the ALS. Hussain has also had longtime ties to Stanford University, and he remains an adjunct professor at Stanford and is affiliated with SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory.

The first instrument that Hussain built at the ALS, which specializes in a technique known as angle-resolved photoemission spectroscopy (ARPES) using a tool known as a high-energy-resolution electron spectrometer, has been a top-performer in its output of experimental results in premier science journals - Hussain refers to the instrument, Beamline 10.0.1, as the "world’s most productive beamline for ARPES."

Another technique he helped to pioneer, known as ambient pressure X-ray photoelectron spectroscopy, or APXPS, now has its own international scientific conference.

The tools and techniques Hussain helped to design and realize have been used to explore next-gen battery materials, and 2-D and topological materials that exhibit exotic properties that could serve in new forms of computing and electronics, as examples.

He also prides himself in the volume of high-impact scientific journal articles stemming from experiments every year at the dozens of ALS beamlines, and in the ALS’s specialty niche that he has helped to carve out in producing cutting-edge beams of "soft" or low-energy X-rays that draw thousands of visiting scientists there each year.

Hussain said that having a solid vision for the scientific problems that researchers are trying to address is always front and center in planning for new instruments and techniques. "To accomplish that science, what instruments do we need?" he said.

The scientific resources at the Lab, he said, are varied and deep, which has aided him throughout his Lab career.

"The whole infastructure of Berkeley Lab is so rich, and very unique," he said. "I know where to go, who to ask, and I can find the solution in the same day."

Zahid’s own scientific achievements earned him a spot on a list of The World’s Most Influential Scientific Minds , released in 2015 by Thomson Reuters, based on highly cited research from 2003 to 2013.

Now that he has retired from his work at the ALS, Hussain said he is happy to continue to be a resource for new generations of scientists - several of whom he has helped to mentor during his decades at the lab. He was instrumental in launching ALS doctoral and postdoctoral fellowship programs to help support early-career researchers at the ALS.

His own career path, he said, has impressed upon him the importance of diversity in science. "Diversity is the key, in the way of a culture, and internationally the science has to be without boundaries," he said.

To further his personal ideals, Hussain participated as the co-lead for a decade on a science advisory committee for a synchrotron project known as SESAME (Synchrotron-light for Experimental Science and Applications in the Middle East) in Jordan that opened to scientists in 2017.

"Scientists talk not just about science but many other things," he said, and a driving motivation for SESAME is that collaborative work in science can lead to peaceful and productive discussions in other areas, too. "That was my motivation," he said. "I did help out in a big way."

At the Jan. 10 ceremony, Berkeley Lab Director Michael Witherell led a round of applause for Hussain. "All of the things he’s done for us here and abroad, and what he’s done for the larger light-source community... that’s why he’s getting this attention," Witherell said.

Harriet Kung, associate director of science for the DOE Office of Basic Energy Sciences, had submitted Hussain’s nomination for the award. And Chuck Fadley, now an affiliate in the Lab’s Materials Sciences Division who has known Hussain since he was a graduate student in Fadley’s group at the University of Hawaii in 1974, submitted a letter supporting Hussain’s nomination.

"His creativity and selflessness in promoting people and projects have made the ALS the world-leading facility it is now," Fadley said. "From his earliest days in my group I have been impressed with his ability to get things done, through elegant persuasion, perennial optimism and energy, and contacts with the right people."

Fadley also credits Hussain with spearheading "a revolution" in ARPES, among other scientific achievements, and in participating in or leading many scientific advisory committees, conferences, and review panels. "He is truly a leading and respected citizen of the worldwide synchrotron radiation community," Fadley wrote in his nomination.

ALS Director Steve Kevan said that Hussain "built instruments and he built scientists - he leaves behind a very strong legacy in both areas that will serve the ALS well into the future." He also credited Hussain’s "irrepressible enthusiasm and his upbeat, can-do attitude" as contributing to the success of the science mission at the ALS.

Elke Arenholz, a senior scientist at the ALS and deputy for photon science operations who was recruited by Hussain in 1999, said Hussain has always exhibited an open-mindedness for new ideas and a generosity in helping to make them real. "He has helped scientists to develop new ideas, and supported them in making them a reality - even if it is a bit outside his field and even if there is a risk to it and others say the idea might not work," she said.

Chris Jozwiak, a staff scientist at the ALS, said Hussain has been a valuable guide for his career. "He has taught me more than I can say. He has been a bottomless source of optimism, support, and encouragement."

The ALS is a DOE Office of Science User Facility.