Analyzing materials with x-rays to reveal their molecular makeup

Filed Under: MAFNews

Q&A with MAF staff scientist Dr. Samantha Young

February 17, 2022

What is your role at the MAF?

Samantha Young portrait

I manage the x-ray diffractometer (XRD) and two x-ray photoelectron spectrometers (XPS) in the MAF. Both are instruments that use x-rays to analyze a material, but provide different information. XRD provides information about the crystal structure of a sample. XPS is a technique that provides information about the elemental composition and binding environment of the surface of a sample where the chemical properties are often very different from the rest of the bulk sample. 

I spend most of my time as a MAF staff scientist training users how to collect quality data and teaching them best practices for how to analyze their data. I also spend time troubleshooting and repairing instruments when they aren't functioning well.

What is your background?

I'm a chemist by training. I received my B.S. in Chemistry from Truman State University (Kirksville, MO) and my Ph.D. in Chemistry from the University of Oregon (UO). At UO, I worked in the lab of Dr. Jim Hutchison where my research focused on designing nanoparticle-functionalized electrodes for electrocatalysis. Throughout my academic career, my favorite courses and research projects were the ones that had a large focus on using analytical instrumentation. As a grad student, I also managed a small x-ray scattering instrument that was part of the CAMCOR user facility at UO. I really enjoyed the experience of working in a user facility and managing an instrument, and feel fortunate that I found this position at the MAF where I get to do that every day!

What is your favorite thing about working at the MAF?

Working one on one with users. I get to interact with users from a wide range of fields such as materials science, chemistry, bioengineering, and environmental science. It's fun to learn about new materials research and figure out how the instruments I manage can help further that research. Recently, I've also been enjoying creating tutorial videos and reference documents for users to help supplement the training sessions for my tools.

I feel lucky to be part of such a supportive team of staff scientists here at the MAF. We often get requests from users who have complex research questions, such as determining the binding environment of a metal bound to a cell wall, or analyzing the variation in metallic composition throughout an alloy. It’s helpful to have such a diverse group – with different scientific backgrounds and areas of expertise – available to brainstorm the best instruments or sample preparation techniques to use in these cases.

What are you passionate about outside of lab?

Playing music! I've been playing violin in various school and community groups since I was in middle school. I currently play violin in the Rain City Symphony here in Seattle which performs concerts every quarter that are free to the public. During the gloomier winter days, I enjoy playing both board games and video games. When it's nicer out, I like to walk around different neighborhoods in the Seattle area and check out new parks and breweries with my partner and our dog.