Ultra-white beetle scales may be the key to more sustainable paint

An international team of researchers has managed to mimic the colour of the Cyphochilus beetle scales – one of the brightest whites in nature, thanks to the ESRF’s imaging capabilities. This could help the development of ultra-white, sustainable paints.

Cyphochilus beetle scales are one of the brightest whites in nature. Until now, researchers did not known how their ultra-white appearance is created. X-ray nanotomography experiments at the ESRF have shown that the nanostructure in their tiny scales creates the colour, not the use of pigment or dyes.
Andrew Parnell, from the University of Sheffield and corresponding author of the study said: “In the natural world, whiteness is usually created by a foamy Swiss cheese-like structure made of a solid interconnected network and air. Until now, how these structures form and develop and how they have evolved light-scattering properties has remained a mystery.”
The findings show that the foamy structure of the beetles’ scales has the right proportion of empty spaces, in a highly interconnected nano-network, which optimise the scattering of light – creating the ultra-white colouring.

>Read more on the European Synchrotron website

Image: Andrew Denison and Stephanie Burg in the experimental hutch of beamline ID16B. 

Metal particles abraded from tattooing needles travel inside the body

Allergic reactions are common side effects of tattoos and pigments have been blamed for this. Now researchers prove, for the first time, that particles, containing the allergens nickel and chromium, wear from the needle during the tattooing process, travel inside the body and could also induce allergies.

The number of tattooed people has increased substantially in recent years, with some countries revealing to have up to 24% of the population with a tattoo. Adverse reactions from tattoos are common and until now, researchers believed only inks were to blame.
“There is more to tattoos than meet the eye. It is not only about the cleanliness of the parlour, the sterilization of the equipment or even about the pigments. Now we find that the needle wear also has an impact in your body”, explains Hiram Castillo, one of the authors of the study and scientist at the ESRF.
Today, in a new study published in the journal Particle and Fibre Toxicology, scientists have shown that, surprisingly, chromium and nickel particles coming from tattoo needle wear are distributed towards the lymph nodes. Usually tattoo needles contain nickel (6–8%) and chromium (15–20%) both of which prompt a high rate of sensitization in the general population and may therefore play a role in tattoo allergies. Two years ago, the same team of researchers found that the pigments and their metal impurities are transported to the lymph nodes in a nanoform, where they can be found years after the placement of the tattoos.

>Read more on the ESRF website and watch the video below

Image: Ines Schreiver, first author (German Federal Institute for Risk Assessment (BfR), Berlin, Germany), with Julie Villanova, ESRF scientist during experiments at the ESRF ID16B beamline.
Credit: ESRF

Mutated protein could become a non-hormonal contraceptive target

An international team of scientists from the Karolinska Institutet in Sweden and Nagoya University has explained how mutations in egg coat protein ZP1 cause infertility in women. The study suggests that ZP1 could be a promising candidate for future non-hormonal contraceptive efforts.
ZP1 is a glycoprotein involved in the fertilization of eggs by cross-linking egg coat filaments. Because studies in mice showed that lack of ZP1 reduces but does not abolish fertility, scientists believed that this molecule was also not crucial for fertility in humans. This new study, however, suggests that ZP1 may have a much more important role in human reproduction than previously thought. “The results were a big surprise because they suggested that mutations that truncate the human ZP1 protein cause female sterility by hindering its cross-linking function, rather than interfering with other egg coat proteins”, explains Luca Jovine, professor at the Karolinska Institutet and leader of the study.

>Read more on the ESRF website

Image: The mutation W83R of human ZP1 does not hinder its secretion but reduces its cross-linking (panel b), likely due to the fact that – as suggested by the structure of chicken ZP1 (panel a) – W83 (W72 in chicken ZP1) stacks between a sugar attached to ZP1 and the loop that makes the cross-link (“cd loop”). The part of the sugar chain that stacks against W83, which is a fucose residue, was only resolved in the structure of the fully glycosylated protein (violet) whose data came from ESRF ID23-1.

Earth’s mantle could be more magnetic than once thought

The Earth’s mantle has long been considered non-magnetic, due to high temperatures at depth.

An international team of scientists used ID18 to study the iron oxide hematite (Fe2O3), a strongly magnetic mineral, at temperatures and pressures found down to the Earth’s lower mantle. Their study, published in Nature, provides evidence that hematite retains magnetic properties at the depth of the transition zone between the upper and lower mantle at certain temperatures and could therefore be a source of magnetic anomalies there.
Scientists have traditionally considered the Earth’s mantle to be non-magnetic due to its elevated temperatures being too high to retain any magnetism in the constituting minerals. However, satellite and aeromagnetic data provide evidence for magnetic anomalies in the mantle, particularly around cooler areas such as subduction zones (tectonic plate boundaries where one plate is forced underneath another). The source of the anomalies remains largely unknown, but iron oxides are considered a likely source due to their high critical temperatures. Of these, hematite (Fe2O3) is the dominant iron oxide at depths of around 300 – 600 km below the Earth’s surface – a transition zone between the upper and the lower mantle.

>Read more on the ESRF website

The most complete study of battery failure sees the light

An international team of researchers just published in Advanced Energy Materials the widest study on what happens during battery failure, focusing on the different parts of a battery at the same time. The role of the ESRF was crucial for its success.

We have all experienced it: you have charged your mobile phone and after a short period using it, the battery goes down unusually quickly. Consumer electronics seem to lose power at uneven rates and this is due to the heterogeneity in batteries. When the phone is charging, the top layer charges first and the bottom layer charges later. The mobile phone may indicate it’s complete when the top surface level is finished charging, but the bottom will be undercharged. If you use the bottom layer as your fingerprint, the top layer will be overcharged and will have safety problems.
The truth is, batteries are composed of many different parts that behave differently. Solid polymer helps hold particles together, carbon additives provide electrical connection, and then there are the active battery particles storing and releasing the energy.
An international team of scientists from ESRF, SLAC, Virginia Tech and Purdue University wanted to understand and quantitatively define what leads to the failure of lithium-ion batteries. Until then, studies had either zoomed in on individual areas or particles in the cathode during failure or zoomed out to look at cell level behavior without offering sufficient microscopic details. Now this study provides the first global view with unprecedented amount of microscopic structural details to complement the existing studies in the battery literature.

>Read more on the ESRF website

Killing two parasites with one stone

Each year Malaria affects 219 million people, causing almost half a million deaths. Crysptosporidiosis is the leading cause of diarrheal diseases in infants, leading to 200,000 deaths a year. An international team of scientists, led by researchers at the University of Dundee, have discovered a molecule which clears the parasites that cause these two illnesses. Their results are published in PNAS.

Malaria is a well-known disease caused by the parasites Plasmodium falciparum and Plamodium vivax and is the target of many available medications. However, the development of drug resistance has led the scientific community search for new therapeutic molecules which might provide for chemoprotection, prevention of transmission, and the treatment of relapsing malaria.
Like malaria, cryptosporidiosis is also a disease caused parasites, in this case Cryptosporidium hominis and Cryptosporidium parvum. Although it does not have the same ‘visibility as Malaria, Cryptosporidiosis is the leading cause worldwide of moderate-to-severe diarrheal diseases in infants and is estimated to lead to more than 200,000 deaths a year. The disease and is also associated with malnutrition, stunted growth, and cognitive-development problems in children. The currently approved drug, nitazoxanide, has poor efficacy, particularly in the case of immune-compromised patients and malnourished children, where there is no effective treatment.

>Read more on the ESRF website

Image: Binding modes of ligands bound to PfKRS1 and CpKRS. (A) PfKRS1:Lys:2 showing the binding mode of 2 (C atoms, gold) bound to the ATP site of PfKRS1 (PDB ID code 6AGT) superimposed upon PfKRS1:Lys:cladosporin (cladosporin C atoms, slate; PDB ID code 4PG3). (B) PfKRS1:5 showing binding mode of 5 bound to PfKRS1 (PDB ID code 6HCU). (See the full image: here)

Coelacanth reveals new insights into skull evolution

A team of researchers, in conjunction with the National Museum of Natural History in Paris, presents the first observations of the development of the skull and brain in the living coelacanth Latimeria chalumnae.

The study, published in Nature, uses data from beamline ID19 and provides new insights into the biology of this iconic animal and the evolution of the vertebrate skull.
The coelacanth Latimeria is a marine fish closely related to tetrapods, four-limbed vertebrates including amphibians, mammals and reptiles. Coelacanths were thought to have been extinct for 70 million years, until the accidental capture of a living specimen by a South African fisherman in 1938. Eighty years after its discovery, Latimeria remains of scientific interest for understanding the origin of tetrapods and the evolution of their closest fossil relatives – the lobe-finned fishes.

>Read more on the European Synchrotron website

Image: Overall anterolateral view of the skull of the coelacanth foetus imaged on beamline ID19. The brain is in yellow.
Credit: H. Dutel et al.

Real-time characterisation of a new miniature-honeycomb fuel cell

A team from Imperial College has designed a miniature ceramic solid oxide fuel cell with excellent properties and together with scientists from the University College London, the company Finden and the ESRF, they characterised the cell as it works on beamline ID15A, confirming the great performances of the new device.

Ceramic fuel cells are considered as one of the most promising technologies for sustainable energy generation thanks to their interesting features, such as higher efficiency compared to conventional combustion-based power plants, high operating temperatures (600 – 1000 °C) that generate high-grade waste heat, and superior fuel flexibility that allows the direct utilization of hydrocarbons.

To date, ceramic fuel cells are used in a wide range of applications, including stationary power supply, combined heat and power system (CHP), auxiliary power units (APU), etc., and will continue receiving attention as shale gas and biofuels are becoming the premium fuel choices thanks to their low carbon footprint.

>Read more on the European Synchrotron website

Image: Micro-computed tomography and X-ray diffraction computed tomography images. XRD-CT maps of LSM (green), YSZ (red) and NiO (blue) have been overlaid on top of a micro-CT image collected at the same z position. The scale bar corresponds to 0.5 mm.
Credit: Tao Li.

ESRF installs first components of new Extremely Brilliant Source

The ESRF’s new Extremely Brilliant Source (EBS) is officially entering a new stage.

This week, the first components for the EBS – the world’s first, high-energy fourth-generation synchrotron light source – have been installed in its storage ring tunnel: a new milestone in the history of the European Synchrotron.
The first Extremely Brilliant Source girders have been installed in the ESRF’s storage ring tunnel. “It’s a great moment for all the teams,” said Pantaleo Raimondi, ESRF accelerator & source director. “Seeing the first girders installed on time is testament to the expertise, hard work and commitment of all involved for more than four years. EBS represents a great leap forward in progress and innovation for the new generation of synchrotrons.”

The start of installation is a key milestone in the facility’s 150M€ pioneering upgrade programme to replace its third-generation source with a revolutionary and award-winning machine that will boost the performance of its generated X-ray beams by 100, giving scientists new research opportunities in fields such as health, energy, the environment, industry and nanotechnologies. The EBS lattice has already been adopted by other synchrotrons around the world, and 18 upgrades following EBS’s example are planned, including in the United States, in Japan and in China.

>Read more on the European Synchrotron website

Image: The first 12-tonne EBS girder is lowered into the storage ring tunnel.

Clear view of “Robo” neuronal receptor opens door for new cancer drugs

During brain development, billions of neuron nerve cells must find accurate pathways in the brain in order to form trillions of neuronal circuits enabling us to enjoy cognitive, sensory and emotional wellbeing.

To achieve this remarkable precision, migrating neurons use special protein receptors that sense the environment around them and guide the way so these neurons stay on the right path. In a new study published in Cell, researchers from Bar-Ilan University and Tel Aviv University in Israel, EMBL Grenoble in France and University of Exeter in the UK report on their discovery of the intricate molecular mechanism that allows a key guidance receptor, “Robo”, to react to signals in its environment.

One of the most important protein signaling systems that guide neurons consists of the cell surface receptor “Robo” and its external guidance cue, “Slit”. “Slit and Robo can be identified in virtually all animals with a nervous system, from a 1 mm-long nematode all the way to humans,” explains researcher Yarden Opatowsky, associate professor and head of the Laboratory of Structural Biology at Bar-Ilan University and who led the research.

>Read more on the European Synchrotron website

Image: A surface representation of the crystal structure of the extracellular portion of human Robo2. The yellow region represents the domain where dimerisation takes place. Here, we see it blocked by the other domains, meaning dimerisation cannot take place and that Robo2 is inactivated.
Credit: Y. Opatowsky.

Women in science, or welcome to everyday life at the ESRF

The 11th February, it is the International Day of Women and Girls in Science.

Today, like every other day at the ESRF, women participate in enabling the scientific progress that takes place in our institute. Meet Isabelle, Sandrine, Marie, Anne-Lise and Blanka, five of our women engineers.

Today, their work is closely related to the Extremely Brilliant Source, or EBS, the world’s first high-energy 4th generation synchrotron under construction at the ESRF. The inside of the storage ring tunnel is unrecognisable. In the short space of time since dismantling started in January, cables and cooling circuits have been disconnected and removed, and the girders and vacuum chambers lifted out. It’s a busy scene and the hundreds of different tasks involved in the dismantling is organised with almost military precision. The woman conducting the troops is Isabelle Leconte, a job she shares with colleague Pascal Renaud.

Isabelle was originally trained in chemical engineering before specialising in vacuum and cryogenic techniques. She joined the ESRF vacuum group in 1991. After 20 years developing her skills in this area, she moved to the operation group to coordinate the maintenance works during shutdown periods and follow-up machine operation and reliability. Since October last year, she has been assigned 100% to the dismantling of EBS.

>Read more on the ESRF website

Image: Marie Spitoni prepares the alignment tools on the pre-mounted girders for EBS.
Credit: ESRF/S. Candé

Revealing the path of a metallodrug in a breast cancer cell

Some types of cancer cannot be treated with classical chemotherapy. Scientists from Inserm, CNRS, Sorbonne University, PSL university, University Grenoble Alpes and ESRF, the European Synchrotron, are working on a metallorganic molecule as an antitumor drug. Their research has given thorough insights into its mechanism in attacking cancer cells. This study is published in Angewandte Chemie.

Triple-negative breast cancer, which represents 10-20% of breast cancers, is not fuelled by hormones. In fact, it tests negative for estrogen and progesterone receptors and excess HER2 protein. This means that it does not respond to hormonal therapy and antibody medicines. Given that it is more aggressive and often has a higher grade than other types of breast cancer, the scientific community is relentlessly trying to find a treatment.

>Read more on the ESRF website

Image: X-ray fluorescence maps of potassium, an essential physiological element of the cell (K, in pink), and, osmium a constitutive element of the metallocifen (Os, in green), in hormone-independent breast cancer cells exposed to the osmocenyl-tamoxifen derivatives.
Credit: Sylvain Bohic.

Classic double-slit experiment in a new light

An international research team led by physicists from Collaborative Research Centre 1238, ‘Control and Dynamics of Quantum Materials’ at the University of Cologne has implemented a new variant of the basic double-slit experiment using resonant inelastic X-ray scattering at the European Synchrotron ESRF in Grenoble. This new variant offers a deeper understanding of the electronic structure of solids. Writing in Science Advances, the research group have now presented their results under the title ‘Resonant inelastic x-ray incarnation of Young’s double-slit experiment’.

The double-slit experiment is of fundamental importance in physics. More than 200 years ago, Thomas Young diffracted light at two adjacent slits, thus generating interference patterns (images based on superposition) behind this double slit. That way, he demonstrated the wave character of light. In the 20th century, scientists have shown that electrons or molecules scattered on a double slit show the same interference pattern, which contradicts the classical expectation of particle behaviour, but can be explained in quantum-mechanical wave-particle dualism. In contrast, the researchers in Cologne investigated an iridium oxide crystal (Ba3CeIr2O9) by means of resonant inelastic X-ray scattering (RIXS).

>Read more on the European Synchrotron website

Image: Beamline ID20, where the experiments took place.
Credit: P. Jayet.

A series of stories celebrating the periodic table’s 150th anniversary

The ESRF is celebrating the International Year of the Periodic Table, because its elements are omnipresent in the research done at the facility. We will publish a series of stories on different elements during the coming weeks. The first series is about the fascinating elements at the bottom of the periodic table.

See the series start here on the ESRF website

Image: Kristina Kvashnina in front of the periodic table. She is from the Helmoltz-Zentrum Dresden-Rossendorf (HZDR) but based at the Rossendorf Beamline (BM20) of ESRF in Grenoble.
Credits: Moulyneux

The secret to Rembrandt’s impasto unveiled

Rembrandt van Rijn revolutionized painting with a 3D effect using his impasto technique, where thick paint makes a masterpiece protrude from the surface. Thanks to the ESRF, three centuries later an international team of scientists led by the Materials Science and Engineering Department of TU Delft and the Rijksmuseum have found how he did it.

Impasto is thick paint laid on the canvas in an amount that makes it stand from the surface. The relief of impasto increases the perceptibility of the paint by increasing its light-reflecting textural properties. Scientists know that Rembrandt, epitome of the Dutch Golden Age, achieved the impasto effect by using materials traditionally available on the 17thcentury Dutch colour market, namely lead white pigment (a mixture of hydrocerussite Pb3(CO3)2.(OH)2 and cerussite PbCO3), and organic mediums (mainly linseed oil). The precise recipe was, however, unknown until today.

>Read more on the European Synchrotron (ESRF) website

Image: Scientist Marine Cotte on beamline ID21.
Credit: Steph Candé.

H2020 project PaNOSC officially started

The project PaNOSC, Photon and Neutron Open Science Cloud, is one of five cluster projects funded under the European H2020 programme.

The project, which will run until December 2022, is coordinated by the ESRF and brings together six strategic European research infrastructures.

Large-scale research infrastructures produce a huge amount of scientific data on a daily basis. For their storage and future (re)use, data need to managed according to the FAIR principles, i.e., be Findable, Accessible, Interoperable and Re-usable. The adaptation and development of both policies and technologies are key to making FAIR data a reality and to serving the broad set of stakeholders who will benefit from a coherent ecosystem of data services.

Under the headline “European Open Science Cloud (EOSC)”, projects covering a wide range of scientific disciplines from physics, astronomy, and life sciences, to social sciences and humanities, have been funded by the European Commission to build and develop the EOSC, which includes a comprehensive catalogue of services for the storage, management, analysis and re-use of research data.

>Read more on the ESRF website
>To know more about PaNOSC ( Photon and Neutron Open Science Cloud ) please read here