The ESRF Council appoints next Director General

The ESRF Council has appointed Jean Daillant as the next Director General of the ESRF, the European Synchrotron.

A soft matter physicist, Jean Daillant has been Director General of the SOLEIL synchrotron since 2011. Under his guidance, SOLEIL has become a leading facility among the medium-energy synchrotron radiation sources. He is the current Chair of LEAPS, the League of European Accelerator-based Photon Sources, which aims to promote scientific excellence and strengthen the cooperation between synchrotron and X-ray free electron laser facilities to support an innovative and sustainable European Research Area. He also holds the role of Spokesperson of the Analytical Research Infrastructures in Europe (ARIE).

Jean Daillant will take over on 1 September 2024 from Francesco Sette, who, during a close to sixteen-year mandate, has overseen the implementation of the entire Upgrade Programme of the ESRF to become the world’s first and leading fourth-generation high-energy synchrotron radiation source.

“The Council extends a heartfelt welcome to Jean in his new role as Director General, and is looking forward to collaborating with him to steer the ESRF towards a bright future amidst challenging circumstances,” states Prof. Helmut Dosch, Chair of the ESRF Council.

Francesco Sette says: “I congratulate Jean on his appointment and welcome him on board on behalf of all of us at the ESRF. I wish him a lot of success in leading the ESRF in the years to come, keeping the facility at the forefront of X-ray science.”

Jean Daillant says: “I feel deeply honoured to be joining the ESRF to serve as Director General. Succeeding Francesco, who has so successfully lead the facility for many years, is a challenge I am taking on with humility. EBS provides extraordinary opportunities for scientific creativity that I will be most excited to develop further, together with the ESRF staff and the wider scientific community.”

Read more on ESRF website

#EBSstory How can iron in the moon and meteorites help to understand the origin of the Solar System?

Using ESRF-EBS, s​​​​​​cientists from Leibniz University Hannover are investigating the origins of the Solar System by studying samples from the moon and micrometeorites.

Meteorites are remnants of material from the early solar system. Our Earth accumulates on average 100 tons per day of these extraterrestrial samples, which largely exhibit spherical shapes. The presence of iron in them provides insights into the formation and composition of the solar system.

Equally, detecting the different forms of iron in moon samples can shed light on the geology of the moon, its history and how celestial bodies form in our solar system.

Regarding the moon, after the Apollo mission, back in the 70s scientists studied several samples and found that iron was very scarce. However, recent studies have found that iron and other metals are more abundant in certain zones in the moon, notably the darker zones, than in the Earth. This effectively disputes the hypothesis that the moon’s metal comes from the Earth’s debris after it collided with a Mars-sized planet called Theia, 4.5 billion years ago.

“Iron in the moon is a very valuable resource as it can be used to construct infrastructure and equipment, for example in the case of a potential lunar space station to carry out research”, explains Franz Renz, professor at Leibniz University Hannover (LUH) and leader of the team.

The team came to the ESRF with samples from both the moon and meteorites. They used the technique of Synchrotron Mössbauer Source to characterise the iron-rich microscopic meteorites, of a diameter of around 100 microns on average, collected from an up to 3.8-million-year-old continuous sedimentary record in the Atacama Desert in Chile. Because this desert is the oldest and driest temperate desert on Earth, it preserves the samples in optimal condition to monitor changes in flux, types and composition of extraterrestrial material over time.

Read more on ESRF website

Image: Lunar samples.

Credit: F. Renz.

Scientists uncover a rare component in Da Vinci’s Mona Lisa paint

Leonardo da Vinci (1452-1519) is considered one of the most important figures of the Renaissance. Whilst he wrote numerous manuscripts bearing on his many sources of interest such as engineering or architecture, he left very few clues on his painting materials. His taste for experimentation was strikingly present in his craft: The build-up of the different layers in each of his paintings is different, as are the materials used.

Now researchers from the laboratory Photophysique et photochimie supramoléculaires et macromoléculaires (CNRS/ENS Paris-Saclay), the Institut de recherche de chimie Paris (CNRS/Chimie ParisTech – PSL), the Centre de recherche et de restauration des musées de France (Ministère de la culture), the Louvre Museum, the Laboratoire d’archéologie moléculaire et structurale (CNRS/Sorbonne Université) and the ESRF, the European Synchrotron, have studied a microsample of the preparation layer of the Mona Lisa to shed light on Da Vinci’s painting methods. To get more clues about Da Vinci’s palette and technique, they also analysed several fragments from the Last Supper, another masterpiece by Leonardo.

The team used the techniques of synchrotron radiation high-angular resolution X-ray powder diffraction (SR-HR-XRPD), micro X-ray diffraction (µXRD) and micro Fourier-transform infrared spectroscopy (μ-FTIR) at the ESRF’s ID22, ID13 and ID21 beamlines, respectively. The results show the presence of a very uncommon composition in both the Mona Lisa’s ground layer and the Last Supper’s ground and paint layers.

“In Mona Lisa, we found a relatively high amount of plumbonacrite, an usual compound that we think is due to a specific mix of oil with lead oxide”, explains Victor Gonzalez, researcher at the laboratory Photophysique et photochimie supramoléculaires et macromoléculaires (CNRS/ENS Paris-Saclay) and corresponding author of the publication. However, the team had seen this component before, specifically in Rembrandt’s masterpiece The Night Watch, painted two centuries after the Mona Lisa. This enabled the scientists to identify possible hypothesis to explain its presence despite the chronological differences between the two artists.

“We faced the additional challenge that there are very few scientific analysis of Mona Lisa and of Da Vinci’s paintings in general, so it was difficult to compare our results with previous studies”, explains Marine Cotte, scientist at the ESRF and co- author of the publication.

Read more on ESRF website

Image: Artistic impression of the Mona Lisa. 

Credit: I. Fazlic, M. Cotte & V. Gonzalez.

ESRF hosts Lightsources.org members’ meeting in Grenoble

Science communicators from light source facilities within Lightsources.org, the global collaboration of 23 synchrotrons and 7 Free Electron Lasers, gathered at The European Synchrotron (ESRF) last week to share knowledge, ideas, and strategic plans. The in-person meeting, the first to be held in Europe since before the pandemic, also focussed on developing a special programme of activities to celebrate the 20th Anniversary of Lightsources.org in 2024.

Guest speakers included Terry O’Connor, EMBL’s Head of communication, and Daniela Antonio, CERN’s Social media and community manager, both of whom shared insights into their strategies, activities and priorities in the ever changing landscape of 21st century science communication.

Delphine Chenevier, Head of communications at the ESRF, comments, “Since we last hosted a Lightsources.org collaboration meeting, the ESRF has undergone a major upgrade to a fourth-generation high-energy synchrotron. This has significantly increased our scientific capabilities. It was wonderful to be able to show colleagues several beamlines where ESRF staff outlined the research that can now be done across a range of fields including health, materials, environmental sciences, cultural heritage, and palaeontology.”

Isabelle Boscaro-Clarke, Diamond’s Head of Impact, Communication and Engagement, adds “One of the most valuable aspects of being a member of Lightsources.org is the connections you develop with colleagues in similar roles around the world. Our in-person meetings give us the opportunity to share both the triumphs and the challenges and provide the time needed to have in-depth discussions. These discussions help us to strengthen our communications programmes at an individual facility level and plan the future development of the Lightsources.org collaboration as it continues to provide one voice for the brightest science.”

Lightsources.org was established in 2004 and, as the 20th Anniversary approaches, the collaboration will be focusing on a new Vision and Strategic Plan for 2024-2044 along with a special programme of activities to raise the profile of Lightsources.org and its members throughout 2024.

If you are interested in becoming a member of Lightsources.org, please visit our About Lightsources.org page or contact Silvana Westbury, our Project Manager, at webmaster@lightsources.org  

To keep up to date with light source news, career opportunities, events, proposal deadlines and upgrade information from our member facilities, please subscribe to our weekly e-newsletter

    

Top Image: Lightsources.org members outside the ESRF, Tuesday 26th September 2023. Left to right: Agnieszka Cudek, SOLARIS, Poland, Ana Belén Martínez, ALBA, Spain, Laia Torres Aribau, ALBA, Spain, Beth Schlesinger, APS (Argonne), USA, Emma Corness, Diamond, UK, Miriam Arrell, SLS/SwissFEL (PSI) Switzerland, Silvana Westbury, Lightsources.org, Isabelle Boscaro-Clarke, Diamond, UK, Florentine Krawatzek, BESSY II (HZB), Germany, Wiebke Laasch, DESY Photon Science, Germany, Delphine Chenevier, ESRF, France

Credit: ESRF

Trilobite’s last meal revealed by synchrotron microtomography

The gut contents of a 465 million-year-old fossilised trilobite were imaged at the ESRF using synchrotron microtomography technique. The results, published in Nature, shed light on the feeding habits and lifestyle of one of the most common and well-known fossil arthropods. The research fills a fundamental gap in the understanding of trilobite ecology and their role in Paleozoic ecosystems.

Trilobites are among the most iconic of fossils and formed a highly diverse, abundant and important component of marine ecosystems during most of their 270-million-year-long history from the early Cambrian period to the end Permian period. More than 20,000 species have been described to date.

Despite numerous fossil specimens, the feeding habits of these animals have had to be inferred indirectly, because no known fossil specimens with internal gut contents have previously been reported. This knowledge gap limits the ability to understand trilobites’ ecological roles, which in turn affects the overall understanding of the ecosystems that they inhabited. A specimen of the trilobite Bohemolichas incola, with partly visible shelly gut contents, was present in a Czech public collection, but the inability to image and identify the individual shell fragments without destroying the fossil limited its research potential.

A team of researchers led by Per Erik Ahlberg at Uppsala University, Sweden, and Valéria Vaškaninová at Charles University, Czech Republic, came to the ESRF to investigate this rare fossil using propagation phase-contrast synchrotron microtomography, at ESRF ID19 beamline. The technique enabled the scientists to non-destructively image all the shell fragments in the gut in 3D and at high resolution. The result was a complete map showing the position and identity of each shell fragment in the gut.

“ESRF played an absolutely pivotal role in this study” says lead author Per Ahlberg, professor at Uppsala University. “The resolution and scan quality it provides – this scan was made on the old ID19 beamline before the upgrade, even better results are possible now – were essential to identify the gut contents, piece by piece. A conventional CT scan would have told us that the trilobite had been eating; only ESRF could tell us what it had been eating.”

Read more on ESRF website

Image: The trilobite Bohemolichas incola. 

Credit: Jiri Svoboda

The shape of snow: New insights could help climate models

Scientists from the Institut des Géosciences de l’Environnement of Grenoble, the Centre d’Etudes de la Neige and the Groupe de Météorologie Expérimentale et Instrumentale have developed a new approach for measuring the interaction between snow and sunlight. This methodology is important to improve the accuracy of climate models. They did X-ray tomography experiments at ESRF ID19 beamline. The results are published in Nature Communications.

Once deposited on the ground, snow is a material composed of air and ice crystals, whose shape and arrangement vary greatly at the micrometre scale. This is known as the microstructure of snow. This “skeleton” of ice and air governs the propagation of light within the snowpack through optical phenomena such as refraction and internal reflections in the ice phase.

However, despite its extreme complexity and irregularity, natural snow is still represented in a simplistic manner in almost all optical models, including those implemented in climate models. These models typically depict snow as a collection of ice particles with perfect geometric shapes, mainly spheres. Among the many implications for the energy balance of snow, this simplification leads to significant uncertainties in climate modelling, with potential impacts of up to 1.2°C on global air temperature.

In this new study, the authors from the Institut des Géosciences de l’Environnement of Grenoble (IGE / CNRS – INRAE – IRD – UGA – Grenoble INP-UGA), the Centre d’Etudes de la Neige (CEN / CNRM / Météo-France – CNRS) and the Groupe de Météorologie Expérimentale et Instrumentale (GMEI / CNRM / Météo-France – CNRS) have accurately simulated the light propagation in a collection of 3D images of snow microstructure obtained by X-ray tomography, using a ray-tracing model. Very different snow types were investigated, from fresh snow (PP) to refrozen melt-freeze forms (MF). Some images were obtained at the 3SR-Lab. Several snow microstructures required higher resolution and were acquired at ESRF beamline ID19.

Read more on the ESRF website

Image: Snow microstructure: This is what fresh snow looks like at the micrometre scale

The key to why plants flower early in a warming world

Scientists have unveiled a new mechanism that plants use to sense temperature. This finding could lead to solutions to counteract some of the deleterious changes in plant growth, flowering and seed production due to climate change. The results are published today in PNAS.

The rise of temperatures worldwide due to climate change is having detrimental consequences for plants. They tend to flower earlier than before and rush through the reproductive process, which translates into less fruits and less seeds and reduced biomass.

Scientists are now working on the plants’ circadian clock, which determines their growth, metabolism and when they flower. The key thermosensor of the circadian clock is EARLY FLOWERING 3 (ELF3), a protein that plays a vital role in plant development. It integrates various environmental cues, such as light and temperature, with internal developmental signals, to regulate the expression of flowering genes and determine when plants grow and bloom.

A team from the ESRF, CEA and CNRS have determined the molecular mechanism of how ELF3 works in vitro and in the model plant Arabidopsis thaliana. As temperature rises, ELF3 undergoes a process called phase separation. This means that two liquid phases co-exist, in a similar way to oil and water. “We believe that when it goes through phase separation, it sequesters different protein partners like transcription factors, which translates into faster growth and early flowering as a function of elevated temperature”, explains Chloe Zubieta, CNRS Research Director from the Laboratoire de Physiologie Cellulaire et Vegetale at the CEA Grenoble (CNRS/Univ. Grenoble Alpes/CEA/INRAE UMR 5168) and co-corresponding author of the publication. “We are trying to understand the biophysics of the prion-like domain inside ELF3, which we think is the responsible for this phase separation.

ELF3 is a flexible protein, with no well-defined structure, so it cannot be studied using X-ray crystallography, as it needs to be in solution. Instead, the team used mainly Small Angle X-ray Scattering. All existing models showed that the structure would be highly disordered. Then the surprise came up: “I’ve seen many prion-like domains involved in phase separation, but this is the first time I saw something fundamentally different”, explains Mark Tully, ESRF scientist on BM29 and co-corresponding author of the publication.

Read more on the ESRF website

New hope in the fight against malaria

Scientists have identified and characterized a new inhibitor that prevents the malaria parasite to infect human red blood cells. It is non-toxic to human cells and targets a nanomotor of the parasite. Structural studies conducted at the ESRF beamlines, in collaboration with teams from the Curie Institute and Vermont University, elucidate the novel mode of inhibition that paves the way for new preventative medications against this disease. The results are published today in Nature Communications.

Malaria infection in humans, caused by the Plasmodium parasites and transmitted via the bite of an infected Anopheles mosquito, is a prominent global health issue. In 2020, malaria caused 627,000 deaths, the majority being children under the age of five according to the WHO. In 2021, nearly half of the world’s population was at risk of malaria. The European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control states that with global climate change, there is a risk that malaria appears in Europe in the coming decades.

In recent years, there has been a remarkable progress in antimalarial therapeutics. However, the parasite is developing resistance to all existing treatments, including current first-line treatments containing artemisinin-based therapies. The first ever malaria vaccine is on the market since October 2021, however its efficacy is relatively modest.

Therefore, the international community is still on the lookout for novel treatments. Six years ago, an international collaboration of scientists, including the Institut Curie in France (Julien Robert-Paganin & Anne Houdusse), the University of Vermont in the USA (Kathleen Trybus) and Imperial College in the United Kingdom (Jake Baum) investigated a large molecular complex called the glideosome that plays a crucial role in the movement of the Plasmodium falciparum (Pf) parasite.

Read more on the ESRF website

Image: Dihia Moussaoui, co-first author of the paper and post-doctoral researcher at the ESRF, during the experiments at the structural beamline ID30B at the ESRF, the European Synchrotron

Credit: ESRF

X-ray nanotomography reveals 3D microstructure of graphite anodes for lithium-ion batteries

The optimisation of battery electrode architecture is a key aspect of improving battery performance, provided that precise characterisation of the complex battery microstructure is possible. In this work, X-ray nanotomography [1] was used at beamline ID16B [2] to obtain high-resolution images of the microstructure of graphite battery electrodes, providing 3D analysis and thorough quantification of the electrode/particle inner structure and porosity at the nanoscale.

A crucial step in the production of battery-grade natural graphite for lithium-ion batteries is the spheroidisation process: the morphological change that occurs in the electrode material during cycling or charging/discharging cycles. However, the low yield (30-50%) of this process results in a large quantity of wasted graphite fines that are not suitable for use in lithium-ion batteries due to their small particle size [3]. A method was devised to recycle waste graphite fines via a re-agglomeration process followed by a petroleum pitch coating in order to obtain aggregated graphite particles with sound mechanical strength and battery-suitable size to be used for electrode preparation. A compression step called ‘calendering’ was applied to the electrode’s coating to reduce its thickness and consequently increase its volumetric capacity.

X-ray nanotomography measurements carried out at beamline ID16B provided important microstructural details of the electrode-representative volumes (128 × 128 × 108 µm3 with 50 nm voxel size), along with statistical analysis of ~500 particles imaged in a single measurement. Data acquired on non-calendered and calendered pristine electrodes show that higher electrode density could be reached by calendering the electrode, without considerably affecting the active material accessibility through diffusion in the pore network. Despite the considerable morphological changes, no clear agglomerate fractures were observed, and particle integrity was preserved as individual agglomerate particles could still be distinguished. This highlights the fact that structural integrity is maintained from the electrode scale down to the particle level, and that the calendering process does not compromise the electrochemical performance.

Read more on ESRF website

Image: lectrode and particle porosity evolution with calendering in terms of (a) pore volume fraction and (b-e) microstructure. 3D rendering views of the (b) non-calendered and (c) calendered electrodes and (d,e) corresponding isolated graphite aggregated particles (with cross-section images).

Cement hydration in 4D: towards a reduction in emissions

Researchers led by the University of Málaga show the Portland cement early age hydration with microscopic detail and high contrast between the components. This knowledge may contribute to more environmentally friendly cements. The results are now published in Nature Communications.

Concrete is a fluid mass that strikingly sets and hardens in hours, even under water. This fabricated rock, which is made of cement, water, sand and gravel, is the basic building block of our civilization. Hence, it is not a surprise that it is the world’s largest manufactured commodity. The enormous production of Portland cement (PC), at 4 billion tonnes per year, results in 2.7 billion tonnes of CO2 emissions per year. If cement production were considered a country, it would be the third CO2 emitter in the world, just after China and USA. Therefore, reducing the CO2 footprint of cement, mortar and concrete is a societal need.

The main drawback of the current proposals for low-carbon cements is the slow hydration kinetics in the first 3 days. “Understanding the processes related to cement hydration as it takes place at its early stages is crucial”, explains Shiva Shirani, first author of the paper and PhD student at the University of Malaga. Despite a century of research, our understanding of cement dissolution and precipitation processes at early ages is very limited. “So we have developed a methodology to get a full picture of the hydration of Portland cement”, she adds.

The team, which is led by the University of Málaga and includes the ESRF, the Paul Scherrer Institute PSI (Switzerland) and the University Grenoble Alpes (France), carried out a tomographic study in the laboratory for an initial characterisation, followed by phase-contrast microtomography experiments with synchrotron radiation to take data very quickly and in large sample volumes, and finally experiments at the nanometric scale, using synchrotron ptychotomography.

Read more on the ESRF website

Image: Scientists followed the hydration process of cement in its early stages

Credit: Shiva Shirani

X-ray diffraction reveals ancient Egyptian illustration methods

The ancient Egyptians used papyrus as a medium for communication and illustration, with the first illustrations appearing in the fifth and sixth dynasties (2500 – 2100 B.C.). Funerary documents, such as the Book of the Dead, flourished during the New Kingdom period as they were considered essential for entering the afterlife.

The Champollion Museum in Vif, France, holds a collection of 280 papyrus fragments, many of which show scenes from the Book of the Dead. The colours used in these illustrations are typical of the Egyptian palette and include blue, green, red, pink, yellow and white, with different characters and elements of the illustrations outlined with a black line.

Researchers from the ESRF and the Néel Institute CNRS/UGA in Grenoble, France, with collaborators from the Champollion Museum, worked together to gain a deeper understanding of the illustration processs used in ancient Egypt. A combination of optical microscopy, synchrotron X-ray powder diffraction, X-ray fluorescence and Raman spectroscopy was used to identify the pigments and their overall distribution.

Two of the papyrus fragments of the collection (PAP-6 and PAP-12) were examined on beamline ID22, where X-ray fluorescence and X-ray diffraction experiments were carried out. Mixed Rietveld and Pawley refinement was carried out against the XRD data to quantify the fine fraction and to consider the heterogeneous microstructure of the pigments.

Read more on the ESRF website 

Environmental pollutants found incrusted in iron in endometriotic lesions

Scientists led by Istituto Di Ricovero e Cura a Carattere Scientifico (IRCCS), the Italian Research Hospital Burlo Garofolo in Trieste show that iron presence in endometriosis is associated to the accumulation of environmental metals, supporting the idea that the environment exposure to toxic chemicals plays a role in the disease.

Around 1 in 10 women in reproductive age around the world live with endometriosis, an inflammatory disease caused when tissue similar to the lining of the uterus grows outside the womb, such as in the ovaries and fallopian tubes. This causes pain and, in many cases, infertility. Even if women have always been affected by endometriosis, it is only since recently that the scientific community has started looking into it. 

The factors that may lead to endometriosis go from genetic predisposition to autoimmune diseases and environmental triggers. Now a team from Institute for Maternal and Child health IRCCS Burlo Garofolo in Trieste (Italy) has found the presence of iron clustered with environmental metals, such as lead, aluminium or titanium, using beamlines ID21 and id16B at the ESRF.

The accumulation of iron in endometriosis was already well documented. Iron deposits are common in endometrial lesions, indicating an altered iron metabolism. “We knew that iron can create oxidative stress and hence, inflammation, as it does in other conditions, such as asbestosis, so we wanted to know more about what chemical form it takes, how it is distributed and whether there are other environmental pollutants with it”, explains Lorella Pascolo, leader of the study. 

Pascolo and her team came to the ESRF to compare iron nanoaggregates in endometrial lesions of patients with normal endometrium samples of the same patients. “The ESRF beamlines are exceptional instruments to get a clear picture of the role of iron and how it transforms into endometrial lesions”, explains Pascolo. 

They used X-ray fluorescence (XRF) on beamline ID21 to track the presence and distribution of iron and environmental pollutants, and ID16B to fine-tune the findings and reveal additional heavy metals at the nano level. They also used X-ray spectroscopy to reveal the chemical state of the iron. 

Read more on the ESRF website

Unusual compound found in Rembrandt’s The Night Watch

An international team of scientists from the Rijksmuseum, the CNRS, the ESRF the European Synchrotron, the University of Amsterdam and the University of Antwerp, have discovered a rare lead compound (named lead formate) in Rembrandt’s masterpiece The Night Watch. This discovery, which is a first in the history of the scientific study of paintings, provides new insight into 17th-century painting technique and the conservation history of the masterpiece. The study is published in Angewandte Chemie – International edition.

The Night Watch, painted in 1642 and displayed today in the Rijksmuseum Amsterdam (The Netherlands), is one of Rembrandt’s most important masterpieces and largest work of art. In the framework of the 2019 Operation Night Watch, the largest research and conservation project ever undertaken for Rembrandt’s masterpiece, an international research team joined forces to study how the painting materials react chemically and with time.

The team of scientists combined multi-scale imaging methods in order to chemically study the materials used by Rembrandt in The Night Watch. A X-ray scanning instrument developed at the University of Antwerp (Belgium) was applied directly to the painting, while tiny fragments taken from the painting were studied with synchrotron micro X-ray probes, at the ESRF, the European Synchrotron (France), and PETRA-III facility (Germany). These two types of analyses revealed the presence of an unexpected organo-metallic compound: lead formates. This compound had never been detected before in historic paintings: “In paintings, lead formates have only been reported once in 2020, but in model paintings (mock-up, fresh paints). And there lies the surprise: not only do we discover lead formates, but we identify them in areas where there is no lead pigment, white, yellow. We think that probably they disappear fast, this is why they were not detected in old master paintings until now”, explains Victor Gonzalez, CNRS researcher at the Supramolecular and Macromolecular Photophysics and Photochemistry (PPSM) laboratory (CNRS/ENS Paris-Saclay) and first author of the paper.

Read more on the ESRF website

Image: The Night Watch, Rembrandt van Rijn, 1642

Credit: Rijskmuseum Amsterdam

Scientists find the presence of fluids derived from subducted slab in the lower mantle

A team of scientists, led by University College Cork (Ireland) and Bayreuth Geoinstitute (Germany), has found proof of subducted slab fluids in the lower mantle by studying inclusions in diamonds using the ESRF.

In the Juína region, in the west of Brazil, a volcanic eruption brought diamonds from the interior of the Earth to the surface around 93 millions of years ago. Diamonds form perfect capsules so they retain the exact chemistry of material from the part of the Earth where they formed. Scientists are therefore studying these minerals to get information on the composition of the deep upper mantle, the transition zone and lower mantle.

Now a team led by University College Cork (Ireland) and Bayreuth Geoinstitute (Germany) has found that subducted material has penetrated into the sublithosperic mantle (below 250 km) by testing the oxidation state of several diamonds from the Juína region using the ESRF.

The oxidation state of the Earth’s mantle controls important parameters and processes, such as magma generation, speciation and mobility of fluids and melts in the Earth’s interior, deep carbon cycle, recycling of oceanic crust back into the mantle, chemical differentiation of the planet and many others.

It is generally considered that the main three layers of the Earth – its crust, mantle and core, represent profound changes in the oxidation state of iron from ferric (Fe3+) at the surface to mostly Fe2+ in the silicate minerals in the upper mantle, transition zone and the lower mantle and ultimately, to the Fe0 in the core. In short, the surface is very oxidised and the core is metallic so it is very reduced.

Read more on the ESRF website

Image: Georgios Aprilis, ESRF postdoc at ID18 beamline

Long COVID and pulmonary fibrosis better understood thanks to innovative techniques

An international team of researchers has revealed how scarring occurs in Long-COVID and pulmonary fibrosis using innovative blood biomarkers and X-ray technology. This study, published in The Lancet – eBioMedicine, contributes to the knowledge on the pathophysiology of severe COVID-19 and thus its treatment.

Long-COVID syndrome, or the origin of the long-term consequences of SARS-CoV-2 infection, is still not fully understood, more than two years after the onset of the pandemic. In particular, the long-term changes in lung tissue following severe COVID-19 disease pose significant limitations for many patients. Some of these patients continue to develop post-COVID pulmonary fibrosis, which is characterised by rapid scarring of the lung tissue.

Until now, the scientific community didn’t understand the underlying mechanisms of this scarring and of specific blood markers that can predict this process. Now, an international research team led by doctors and researchers at the Institute of Pathology at the RWTH Aachen University Hospital, the Hannover Medical School (MHH), HELIOS University Hospital in Wuppertal, and the University Medical Center Mainz, in collaboration with scientists at University College London (UCL) and the European Synchrotron (ESRF), has uncovered the mechanism that modifies the connective tissue of the lung in severe COVID-19. By combining the latest in imaging and molecular biology techniques this multidisciplinary team uncovered a mechanism by which the connective tissue of the lung is modified in severe COVID-19. They have demonstrated how COVID-19 changes the structure of the finest blood vessels in the lung and found molecular markers of this damage in the blood of patients that might ultimately help diagnose and treat the condition.

Read more on the ESRF website

Image: Two of the co-authors, Claire Walsh and Paul Tafforeau, during the scans and experiments at the ESRF, the European Synchrotron.