Experts disscuss about the future of European particle accelerators

On 19 and 20 July, the ALBA Synchrotron is hosting the 102nd Plenary ECFA meeting, with the participation of 70 researchers, including Dr. Fabiola Gianotti, CERN’s Director-General.

The European Committee for Future Accelerators (ECFA) is an advisory body for CERN Management, CERN Council and its Committees, and to other national and international organizations, on the long-term planning of European High-Energy Physics (HEP) facilities, accelerators and equipment adequate for the conduction of a valid high energy research program.

The participants of the plenary meeting will discuss, during two days, about different topics on high energy physics and the main HEP accelerator facilities in Europe will report on their activities. Fabiola Gianotti, CERN’s Director-General, will report on CERN activities and perspectives. The role of ECFA is of particular relevance in the period 2018-2020 due to the on-going update of the European Strategy for Particle Physics, which will shape the future of the HEP community in Europe and, in particular, what lays ahead for CERN after the High Luminosity LHC project (the upgrade of the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) that aims to increase its luminosity such that the accumulated data will be 10 times larger than with the present configuration).

>Read more on the ALBA website

How legionella manipulates the host cell by means of molecular mimics

Using synchrotron light, researchers from CIC bioGUNE have solved the structure of RavN, a protein that Legionella pneumophila uses for stealing functions and resources of the host cell.

Mimicry is the ability of some animals to resemble others in their environment to ensure their survival. A classic example is the stick bug whose shape and colour make him unnoticed to possible predators. Many intracellular pathogens also use molecular mimicry to ensure their survival. A part of a protein of the pathogen resembles another protein totally different from the host and many intracellular microorganisms use this capability to interfere in cellular processes that enable their survival and replication.

The Membrane Trafficking laboratory of the CIC bioGUNE in the Basque Country, led by Aitor Hierro, in collaboration with other groups from the National Institutes of Health in the United States, have been working for several years in understanding how the infectious bacterium Legionella pneumhopila interacts with human cells. During this research, experiments have been carried out at the XALOC beamline of the ALBA Synchrotron and I04 beamline of Diamond Light Source (UK). The results enabled scientists to solve the structure of RavN, a protein of L. pneumophila that uses this molecular mimicry to trick the infected cell.

>Read more on the ALBA website

Figure: (extract) Schematic representation of the structure of RavN1-123 as ribbon diagram displayed in two orientations (rotated by 90° along the x axis). Secondary elements are indicated as spirals (helices) or arrows (beta strands), with the RING/U-box motif colored in orange and the C-terminal structure colored in slate. (Full image here)

ALBA invites primary school students to experiment with science

Mision ALBA is an educational project beginning next academic year and a maximum of 250 primary school groups of 5th and 6th grade from all over Spain will be able to participate.

One mission, four phases: matter, force, energy and light. ALBA is looking for boys and girls to accept the challenge of dealing with synchrotron science! From now on, their teachers can register their groups at The educational project is launched for the first time during the academic year 2018-2019 and up to 5,000 students can participate, totally free. The contents of the Misión ALBA respond to the demands of the official curriculum for this educational stage, including educational guidelines adapted for each autonomous region.

>Read more on the ALBA Synchrotron website

Nobel Prize Barry C. Barish visits ALBA

The Nobel Laureate in Physics for his role in the detection of gravitational waves has visited today the facility.

Accompanied by the director, Caterina Biscari, Ramon Pascual, honorary president, other members of the ALBA management and Enrique Fernández, former director of IFAE, Barry C. Barish has had the opportunity to visit the experimental hall and talk to different researchers who are performing their experiments this week at ALBA.

>Read more on the ALBA website

Picture: (from left to right), Enrique Fernández – former director of IFAE -, Barry C. Barish, Caterina Biscari and Ramon Pascual.

Magnetization ratchet in cylindrical nanowires

A team of researchers from Materials Science Institute of Madrid (CSIC), University of Barcelona and ALBA Synchrotron reported on magnetization ratchet effect observed for the first time in cylindrical magnetic nanowires (magnetic cylinders with diameters of 120nm and lengths of over 20µm).

These nanowires are considered as building blocks for future 3D (vertical) electronic and information storage devices as well as for applications in biological sensing and medicine. The experiments have been carried out at the CIRCE beamline of the ALBA Synchrotron. The results are published in ACS Nano.

The magnetic ratchet effect, which represents a linear or rotary motion of domain walls in only one direction preventing it in the opposite one, originates in the asymmetric energy barrier or pinning sites. Up to now it has been achieved only in limited number of lithographically engineered planar nanostructures. The aim of the experiment was to design and prove the one-directional propagation of magnetic domain walls in cylindrical nanowires.

>Read more on the ALBA website

Image: (extract) Unidirectional propagation of magnetization as seen in micromagnetic simulations and XMCD-PEEM experiments. See entire image here.

Insulator metal transition at the nanoscale

An international team of researchers has been able to probe the insulator-conductor phase transition of materials at the nanoscale resolution. This is one of the first results of MaReS endstation of BOREAS beamline.

Controlling the flow of electrons within circuits is how electronic devices work. This is achieved through the appropriate choice of materials. Metals allow electrons to flow freely and insulators prevent conduction. In general, the electrical properties of a material are determined when the material is fabricated and cannot be changed afterwards without changing the material. However, there are materials that can exhibit metal or insulator behaviour depending on their temperature. Being able switch their properties, these materials could lead to a new generation of electronic devices.

Vanadium Dioxide (VO2) is one such material. It can switch from an insulating phase to a metallic phase just above room temperature, a feature exploited already for sensors. However, the reason why the properties of this material change so dramatically has been a matter of scientific debate for over 50 years.

One of the challenges in understanding why and how this switch occurs is due to a process called phase separation. The insulator-metal phase transition is similar to the ice to liquid transition in water. When ice melts, both liquid and solid water can coexist in separate regions. Similarly, in VO2, insulating and metallic regions of the material can be coexisting at the same time during the transition. But unlike water, where the different regions are often large enough to see with the naked eye, in VOthis separation occurs on the nanoscale and it is thus challenging to observe. As a result, it has been hard to know if the true properties of each phase, or the mixture of both phases, are being measured.

>Read more on the ALBA Synchrotron website

Image: (extract, original here) reconstructed holograms at the vanadium and oxygen edges (518, 529, and 530.5 eV) used to encode the intensities of the three color channels of an RGB (red, green, blue) image. At 330 K, an increase in intensity of the green channel, which probes the metallic rutile phase (R) through the d∥ state, is observed in small regions. As the sample is heated further, it becomes increasingly clear that the blue channel, which probes a intermediate insulating M2 phase, also changes but in different regions. At 334 K, three distinct regions can be observed corresponding to the insulating monoclinic M1, M2, and metallic R phases. As the temperature increases, the R phase dominates. The circular field of view is 2 μm in diameter. (taken from Vidas et al, Nanoletters, 2018).

Ferromagnetic and antiferromagnetic coupling of spin molecular interfaces

Researchers from the physics department of the Università “La Sapienza” in Rome, Centro S3 of Modena and ALBA, have demonstrated that magnetic coupling of metal-organic molecules to a magnetic substrate mediated by a graphene layer can be tuned in strength and direction by choosing the symmetry of the molecular orbitals that is largely preserved thanks to the graphene layer. The results have been published in the journal Nano Letters.
Paramagnetic molecules become potential building blocks in spintronics when their magnetic moments are stabilized against thermal fluctuations, for example, by a controlled interaction with a magnetic substrate. Spin molecular interfaces with preserved magnetic activity and exhibiting magnetic remanence at room temperature (RT) can open the route to engineer highly spin-polarized, nanoscale current sources. The need to fully control the organic spin interface and the tuning of ferromagnetic (FM) or antiferromagnetic (AFM) coupling to achieve a stable conductance has motivated a vast experimental interest.

Image: Figure 1: a,b) Antiferromagnetic/Ferromagnetic coupling as deduced by element-specific hysteresis loops of  a FePc and CuPc (respectively) to a Cobalt layer with perpendicular magnetic anisotropy intercalated below graphene. c,d) orbital-porjection of the spin-density for the FePc and CoPc interface reflecting the different symmetry of the molecular orbitals involved in the ferromagnetic and antiferromagnetic interaction.

Record number of visitors at ALBA Open Day

The ALBA Open Day, held last Saturday 5 May, received 2,321 visitors who could discover how this scientific facility works and what its main applications are.

Despite again this year the rain was present in its seventh celebration, the ALBA Open Day welcomed a record number of visitors: 2,321 people.

From 9:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m., more than 100 volunteers, members of the ALBA staff, showed the facilities to the attendees and explained them the operation and characteristics of the electron accelerators’ complex, aimed at producing synchrotron light for analysing the properties of matter.

The event followed a free itinerary where visitors were able to see the devices where the electrons pass through or those used for manipulating the synchrotron light, to participate in fun demonstrations to know more about concepts like vacuum or pressure, microscopy or spectroscopy. New this year, the ALBA Open Day hosted an exhibition to highlight the role of women in science as well as an art exhibition on pinhole photography and solarigraphy, images taken with cans and that collect the trajectory of Sun, respectively. The area devoted to the youngest was also very crowded with experiments and activities for them. Besides, three conferences were given about particle accelerators (Caterina Biscari, director of ALBA), how synchrotron light is generated (Pep Campmany, researcher responsible of the insertion devices section) and why a synchrotron facility is a useful tool (Miguel Ángel García Aranda, scientific director).

>Read more on the ALBA Synchrotron website


Strengthening Europe’s leading role in science

Director Jean-David Malo, DG Research and Innovation of the European Commission, received the strategy today at the Bulgarian Presidency Flagship Conference on Research Infrastructures.

“A world where European science is a catalyst for solving global challenges, a key driver for competitiveness and a compelling force for closer integration and peace through scientific collaboration.” This is the vision of LEAPS, League of European Accelerator-based Photon Sources, on which the LEAPS Strategy 2030 is based.

“I believe science makes the world a better place and I’m very happy to be able to present this strategy today”, said Caterina Biscari, director of ALBA and Vice Chair of LEAPS. “I’m convinced it will be a major contribution in how to develop European research infrastructures in a cost-effective and sustainable way. I look forward to the upcoming discussions with the European Commission, with our national funders and with our extensive user community on how we, by joining forces, can boost European science and innovation”.

“By bringing together the community of national and pan European synchrotrons and free electron lasers facilities, the LEAPS initiative should be encouraged as it aims at structuring the European landscape of Research Infrastructures, coordinating strategic investments and facilitating transnational access”, said Jean-David Malo, DG Research and Innovation of the European Commission.

The health, prosperity, and security of European citizens today and in the future depend on meeting increasingly demanding challenges. These can be found in energy and transport, health care and food safety, and sustainable living. This demands new technology, new treatments and a better understanding of the world around us, all of which point to an increased role and reliance on highly sophisticated analytical tools like accelerator-based light sources to provide the most incisive means of measuring and unravelling atomic and molecular structures of the world around us.

Europe hosts 13 synchrotron radiation facilities and six free electron laser facilities which all of them are founding members of LEAPS. They represent a multi-billion Euro investment with an annual operation budget of €700M serving more than 24 000 direct users.

>Read more on the ALBA website

Find out more
>Diamond Light Source has also published an article on the LEAPS Strategy
>DESY has also written about the joint strategy
> Find here the LEAPS website



Researchers obtain nanometric magnetite with full properties

When reducing materials at the nanoscale, they typically lose some of their properties. The experiments have been carried out at the CIRCE beamline of the ALBA Synchrotron.

Magnetite is a candidate material for various applications in spintronics, meaning that can be employed in devices where the spin of the electron is used to store or manipulate information. However, when it is necessary to create structures of the material at the nanometric scale, their properties get worse. A study, recently published in the scientific journal Nanoscale, has proved that, with suitable growth, magnetite could be used to create nanostructured magnetic elements without losing their properties.

“Oxides have been proposed to be used for spin waves in triangular structures for computing. And our results suggest that magnetite could be used for this purpose, “says Juan de la Figuera, scientist from the Spanish National Research Council (CSIC).

>Read more on the ALBA website

Image: Beamline involved where nanometric magnetite has been obtained, keeping its full properties.
Credit: ALBA

Major upgrade of the NCD beamline

The NCD beamline, now NCD-SWEET, devoted to Small Angle and Wide Angle X-ray Scattering (SAXS, WAXS), is offering users further experimental possibilities and higher quality data.

The SAXS beamline of ALBA has gone through a major upgrade in 2017. Upgraded items in the SAXS WAXS experimental techniques (SWEET) involve a new monochromator system, a new photon counting detector (Pilatus 1M), a new sample table with an additional rotating stage, and a beam conditioning optics with µ-focus and GISAXS options.

The original double crystal monochromator (DCM) has been replaced by a channel-cut silicon (1 1 1), improving the beam stability at sample position up to 0.9% and 0.4% of the beam size horizontally and vertically, respectivelly.

>Read more on the ALBA website

Figure: Vertical beam profile with the Be lenses into the beam (Horizontal axis unit is mm). The plot is the derivative of an edge scan along the vertical direction. The horizontal beam profile shows a gaussian shape as well.

Analysing Alzheimer’s mechanisms with synchrotron light

Researchers from the ALBA Synchrotron and the Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona (UAB) have analysed with synchrotron light different Alzheimer’s aggregates, their location and their effect in cultivated neuronal cells.

Results, published in Analytical Chemistry, pave the way to better understand the development of this disease that affects more than 30 million people worldwide.

Memory loss, communications’ difficulties, personality and behaviour changes, orientation problems … Unfortunately, these symptoms are widespread in our society, since 30 million people worldwide and 1.5 in Spain suffer from the effects of Alzheimer’s, according to the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Spanish Confederation of Family Members of Alzheimer’s and other dementias patients (CEAFA), respectively. Alzheimer’s is the most important cause of dementia and is described as a multifactorial disease that leads to neuronal cell death. Nowadays, there is no effective treatment to fight against or to prevent it.

When a person has Alzheimer’s, amyloid plaques are generated inside his brain. They are made of deposits or aggregates of the amyloid beta peptide. This peptide – which comes from a protein that is necessary for cellular functioning – tends to be aggregated by adopting different sizes and morphologies, depending on the physical and chemical conditions around it. Although it is already known that the presence of the beta amyloid peptide, together with other factors such as oxidative stress, play a key role in the onset and development of the Alzheimer’s disease, it is not still clear what causes the disease and what the consequences are.

>Read more on the ALBA website

LEAPS initiative is making progress

ALBA is hosting the Coordination Board and Task Force meetings of the LEAPS Initiative, the League of European Accelerator-based Photon Sources.

LEAPS is a strategic consortium initiated by the Directors of the Synchrotron Radiation and Free Electron Laser (FEL) facilities in Europe. 19 facilities are taking part with the aim to offer a step change in European cooperation, through a common vision of enabling scientific excellence, solving global challenges, and boosting European competitiveness and integration.

These days, the ALBA Synchrotron is hosting the first face-to-face meeting of the Coordination Board with the participation of all facility representatives, followed by a meeting of the Task Force which is preparing a position paper to be submitted to the European Union at the end of March 2018. Rafael Abela, from the Paul Scherrer Institute in Switzerland, is chairing this task.

>Learn more about the LEAPS initiative

ALBA opens a liquid helium recovery plant

This installation allows recycling 80% of the liquid helium consumed in ALBA for operating the superconducting magnets and for experiments at ultra-low temperatures.

Despite being the second most abundant element in the universe, helium is very scarce on Earth and it is expected to be completely exhausted in a few decades. This inert gas, which is generated by fusing hydrogen atoms, is hidden in the subsoil of some natural gas reserves and its extraction is expensive and difficult to obtain. This is why different systems are being explored to recover helium and thus facilitate its application in the wide range of equipment in which it is used (beyond the popular balloons).

Liquid helium is basic for the operation of medical equipment such as magnetoencephalography (MEG) to cool down the superconducting magnets they contain to almost 270 ºC. It is also necessary for carrying out different scientific experiments; at the ALBA Synchrotron there are currently two superconducting magnets: one for producing synchrotron light in one of the beamlines and the other one for the sample area of another beamline, needing both a considerable amount of helium. Besides, four of the eight beamlines use it to keep cold the samples that must be analysed when they are irradiated with synchrotron light.

In order to guarantee the availability of this limited substance (it is foreseen that its cost will double in the near future), ALBA has built a plant to liquefy the helium gas and reuse it again once liquefied.

“With the new plant we can recycle 80% of the helium that we consume in our experiments and save more than € 10 per litre nowadays”, says Joan Casas, Head of the Engineering division of the ALBA Synchrotron.

>Read more on the ALBA website


Prehistoric Iranian glass under synchrotron light

Scientists from University of Isfahan in Iran have analysed in the ALBA Synchrotron how were made ancient Iranian glass objects that date back to 2.500 BC. These decorative glass pieces were excavated from the ziggurat of Chogha-Zanbil, a type of stepped pyramidal monument, inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List.

Ziggurats, the most distinct architectural feature of the Mesopotamian, are a type of massive stone structure built thousand years ago as a temple where deities lived. Nevertheless, Chogha-Zanbil, near Susa (Iran), is one of the few existent ziggurats found outside the Mesopotamian area. During ancient times Chogha-Zanbil was known as Dur Untaš, and may had been a sacred city of the Elamite Kingdom, an ancient Pre-Iranian civilization centred in the far West and Southwest of what is now modern-day Iran.

In order to determine the chemical composition of these unique samples, including one piece of ceramics and one piece of metallurgical crucible, a team of Iranian scientists came to ALBA Synchrotron to analyse them using X-Rays Powder Diffraction at the MSPD beamline. The MSPD analyses were carried out on more than 100 points on the glass objects. Synchrotron light enabled them to obtain high resolution diffraction patterns, from whose interpretation researchers have deduced the exact composition of the clay based structure as well as glassy part of the samples.

>Read more on the ALBA website

Image: The glass objects were originally used at the walls and doors of the tempel Chogha-Zanbil.
Credit: Mohammadamin Emami

Control of magnetoresistance in spin valves

Molecules, due to their wide-ranging chemical functionalities that can be tailored on demand, are becoming increasingly attractive components for applications in materials science and solid-state physics. Remarkable progress has been made in the fields of molecular-based electronics and optoelectronics, with devices such as organic field-effect transistors and light emitting diodes. As for spintronics, a nascent field which aims to use the spin of the electron for information processing, molecules are proposed to be an efficient medium to host spin-polarized carriers, due to their weak spin relaxation mechanisms. While relatively long spin lifetimes are measured in molecular devices, the most promising route toward device functionalization is to use the chemical versatility of molecules to achieve a deterministic control and manipulation of the electron spin.

Spin-polarized hybrid states induced by the interaction of the first molecular monolayers on ferromagnetic substrates are expected to govern the spin polarization at the molecule–metal interface, leading to changes in the sign and magnitude of the magnetoresistance in spin-valve devices. The formation of spin-polarized hybrid states has been determined by spin-polarized spectroscopy methods and principle-proven in nanosized molecular junctions, but not yet verified and implemented in large area functional device architectures.

>Read more on the ALBA website

Image: Magnetoresistance (top) and X-ray spectroscopy (bottom) measurements, evidencing the control of the magnetoresistance sign and amplitude by engineering spin valves with NaDyClq/NiFe and NaDyClq/Co interfaces, and their corresponding interfacial molecule-metal hybridization states.