By Andre Salles
As the environment, safety and health lead for the APS Upgrade, Freedman knows that the most important part of the project is the people who make it happen.
Tiffany Freedman is humble about her job. But as the environment, safety and health (ESH) lead for the upgrade of the Advanced Photon Source (APS), a U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) Office of Science user facility at DOE’s Argonne National Laboratory, she’s responsible for a great deal.
The APS Upgrade is an extensive endeavor that is spread out among multiple buildings, and more than 200 people work on the project. Freedman’s job is to work with a dedicated team to keep everyone who works on the upgrade safe.
This requires her to touch base with each of the seven locations where APS Upgrade work is happening each day. The goal of the project is to replace the current electron storage ring at the heart of the APS with a new one, assembled from more than a thousand powerful electromagnets, thousands of power supplies and a complex vacuum system. This will increase the power of the facility’s X-ray beams by up to 500 times. The APS Upgrade is also building multiple new beamlines and updating others to take advantage of those brighter beams.
A significant portion of that work is happening inside Building 981, a warehouse facility about a mile outside of Argonne’s campus. That’s where the magnets, plinths, vacuum and associated systems are being assembled into modules for transport to the APS and installation. But there are other parts of the project happening all over Argonne, and Freedman needs to keep track of all of it.
“The size and diversity of the project is huge,” she said. “I need to make sure I have the pulse of all of it. It changes fast, there are so many moving parts.”
Change is something Freedman is used to. Her career path to Argonne took several different turns. Freedman has a science background – she holds a master’s degree in chemistry from the University of St. Joseph, and taught college-level chemistry for nearly nine years. That wasn’t her original dream, however.
“I wanted to get a marine biology degree and work with Jacques Cousteau,” she laughed. “That’s why I went to school. When I got to college and enrolled in my first semester, I took chemistry classes and loved those. But when I looked at the textbooks for later classes, I saw that it was a lot of memorizing bones, that kind of thing. And that was not what I wanted to do.”
So she focused on chemistry, teaching at the College of Charleston in South Carolina. While there, she found herself heading up the safety program for the chemistry department, eventually transitioning to lead a similar safety program at The Citadel, a South Carolina military school. The shift from science to safety is not an uncommon one for chemists, Freedman said, and it was one more step on the road that led her to Argonne.
The biggest leap came, however, when she moved to Chicagoland without a job waiting for her. She’d spent some time in the Midwest and had fallen in love with the area, and wanted to build a life here. Three months of job hunting later, a safety generalist position with the APS Upgrade found its way to her inbox.
“I knew about the national labs and knew what the APS was,” she said. “But I didn’t, not really, not until I started working here. It’s a scientist’s favorite dream to work at a facility like the APS. I was so in love with being here that I couldn’t see myself anywhere else. And not for one day have I regretted my decision.”
Freedman made the jump to Argonne in 2019, working with former ESH lead for the project, Jeffery McGhee. She describes every day working with McGhee as a learning experience, and it was this experience that prepared her to step into the role in 2022.
As ESH lead for the project, Freedman is involved not just in the day-to-day safety aspects of the work, but in planning and coordination to ensure that any job, large or small, is undertaken with safety at the forefront. There is no typical day, she said. The goal each day is to make sure everyone involved with the project is being as safe as possible, using best practices and lessons learned to guide their efforts.
She’s quick to note that she doesn’t handle all of this alone. Not only does she have nothing but praise for the team of ESH professionals she works with at the APS on a daily basis – “I run point, but without a great group of people, it doesn’t matter who is in the chair,” she said – she treasures her interactions with the APS Upgrade team itself.
“It would be difficult to move anywhere else after working with this team of people,” she said. “They’re experts in their field, they’re professional, they’re family.”
The upgraded APS will enable advancements in many scientific fields, from discovering new materials for roads and bridges to creating longer-lasting batteries to helping develop new drugs to fight infectious diseases. All of this, Freedman says, stirs her inner scientist.
“I am geeking out over the stuff that happens here, and I am super jealous of the scientists who get to work on it,” she laughed. “I read papers and talk to people about what they’re working on. I think about what we’ll be able to do once we’re done with the upgrade.
“Imagine the world we’ll help create,” she said. “It’s just cool.”
The U.S. Department of Energy's APS at Argonne National Laboratory is one of the world’s most productive x-ray light source facilities. Each year, the APS provides high-brightness x-ray beams to a diverse community of more than 5,000 researchers in materials science, chemistry, condensed matter physics, the life and environmental sciences, and applied research. Researchers using the APS produce over 2,000 publications each year detailing impactful discoveries, and solve more vital biological protein structures than users of any other x-ray light source research facility. APS x-rays are ideally suited for explorations of materials and biological structures; elemental distribution; chemical, magnetic, electronic states; and a wide range of technologically important engineering systems from batteries to fuel injector sprays, all of which are the foundations of our nation’s economic, technological, and physical well-being.
Argonne National Laboratory seeks solutions to pressing national problems in science and technology. The nation's first national laboratory, Argonne conducts leading-edge basic and applied scientific research in virtually every scientific discipline. Argonne researchers work closely with researchers from hundreds of companies, universities, and federal, state and municipal agencies to help them solve their specific problems, advance America's scientific leadership and prepare the nation for a better future. With employees from more than 60 nations, Argonne is managed by UChicago Argonne, LLC, for the U.S. DOE Office of Science.
The U.S. Department of Energy's Office of Science is the single largest supporter of basic research in the physical sciences in the United States and is working to address some of the most pressing challenges of our time. For more information, visit the Office of Science website.