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NERSC Helps Scientists Study Plants’ Plumbing

September 20, 2016

ALS plant plumbing

These American chestnut saplings, grown at a nursery in Idaho, are prepared for a round of X-ray and other experiments at Berkeley Lab’s Advanced Light Source. Image: Marilyn Chung/Berkeley Lab

To resolve open questions about plant plumbing—how plants transport water from roots through stems and how they respond to stress such as drought—science teams from around the world met Sept. 1-3 at the Department of Energy’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab) and UC Berkeley for an intensive round of experiments using X-rays and other techniques.

The collaborative effort to study plants prepared under different watering conditions will provide new data and insight about how to better tend to crops and other plants under stress and in natural conditions. It could also lead to improved understanding and forecasting for drought-related die-offs of trees and other plant species.

For example, researchers studied live American chestnut saplings with a 3-D microscopic X-ray imaging technique at Berkeley Lab’s Advanced Light Source (ALS), and then explored the same samples using other laboratory tests.

“For me this is unprecedented—something totally different,” said Dula Parkinson, the ALS scientist who oversees the X-ray beamline and facilitated the effort to scan the lower stems of dozens of the young trees with X-rays. “We don’t usually have this many people from this many groups coming here all at the same time. It’s really been fun.”

About 15 researchers participated in the event, including scientists from the University of California, Davis; Western Sydney University in Australia; and the University of Alberta in Canada; and together they will work to analyze the data and interpret the results. The event produced a terabyte worth of 3D imaging data that will be processed and stored at Berkeley Lab’s National Energy Research Scientific Computing Center (NERSC) and ultimately shared with the greater research community.

About NERSC and Berkeley Lab
The National Energy Research Scientific Computing Center (NERSC) is a U.S. Department of Energy Office of Science User Facility that serves as the primary high-performance computing center for scientific research sponsored by the Office of Science. Located at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, the NERSC Center serves more than 6,000 scientists at national laboratories and universities researching a wide range of problems in combustion, climate modeling, fusion energy, materials science, physics, chemistry, computational biology, and other disciplines. Berkeley Lab is a DOE national laboratory located in Berkeley, California. It conducts unclassified scientific research and is managed by the University of California for the U.S. DOE Office of Science. »Learn more about computing sciences at Berkeley Lab.