Lightsource research on SARS-CoV-2

Coronaviruses are a family which includes the common cold, SARS, MERS and the current outbreak of the disease COVID-19, caused by the SARS-CoV-2 virus.
Several facilities of our collaboration have started research about SARS-CoV-2 virus or launched open calls for rapid access. This post will be updated regularly.

Publications on SARS-CoV-2 Rapid Access


The Canadian Light Source (Canada) has created a specific page highlighting their COVID-19 research: COVID-19 research at the Canadian Light Source

BESSY II at HZB (Germany) has set up a page where it shows their contributions to the research on SARS-CoV-2 , see here

DESY (Germany) has launched a new page dedicated to Corona Research:

Diamond Light Source (UK) has created a specific website “Coronavirus Science” with platforms for various audiences: scientific community, general public and the media:

ELETTRA (Italy) has launched a new page dedicated to COVID-19 research:

The Photon Division of PSI (Switzerland) have collated many information linked to their institute on coronavirus-relevant research (recent publications, rapid access…):

ALBA (Spain) has set up a dedicated area on their website for information related to COVID-19 (rapid access, publications etc):

The ALS (CA/USA) has created a page listing all COVID-19 related research:

Published articles

2021.08.11 BESSY II at HZB (Germany) article on their website: HZB coordinates European collaboration to develop active agents against Corona – Helmholtz-Zentrum Berlin (HZB) (

2021.08.10 Canadian Light Source article on their website: Developing antiviral drugs to treat COVID-19 infections

2021.07.06 European XFEL (Germany) article on their website: XFEL: Insights into coronavirus proteins using small angle X-ray scattering

2021.06.21 Diamond Light Source (UK) article on their website: X-ray fluorescence imaging at Diamond helps find a way to improve accuracy of Lateral Flow Tests

2021.06.17 Australian Synchrotron (ANSTO) article on their website: Research finds possible key to long term COVID-19 symptoms

2021.05.11 Swiss Light Source at PSI (Switzerland) article on their website: How remdesivir works against the coronavirus

2021.05.28 SLAC (CA / USA) article from the Stanford Synchrotron Radiation Lightsource (SSRL): Structure-guided Nanobodies Block SARS-CoV-2 Infection | Stanford Synchrotron Radiation Lightsource

2021.05.21 ALS (USA) article on their website: Guiding Target Selection for COVID-19 Antibody Therapeutics

2021.05.21 ESRF (France) article on their website: Combatting COVID-19 with crystallography and cryo-EM (

2021.05.18 ALS (USA) article on their website: How X-Rays Could Make Reliable, Rapid COVID-19 Tests a Reality | Berkeley Lab (

2021.04.27 Canadian Light Source (Canada), video on their website Investigating the long-term health impacts of COVID-19 (

2021.04.22 Synchrotron Light Research Institute (Thailand), article on their website: SLRI Presented Innovations Against COVID-19 Outbreak to MHESI Minister on His Visit to a Field Hospital at SUT

2021.04.16 Diamond Light Source (UK) article on their website: Massive fragment screen points way to new SARS-CoV-2 inhibitors

2021.04.14 SLAC (CA / USA), article also with news about research at Stanford Synchrotron Radiation Lightsource (SSRL):Researchers search for clues to COVID-19 treatment with help from synchrotron X-rays

2021.04.07 Diamond Light Source (UK), article on their website: First images of cells exposed to COVID-19 vaccine – – Diamond Light Source

2021.04.05 ALS (CA/USA) blog post on Berkeley Lab Biosciences website: New COVID-19 Antibody Supersite Discovered

2021.04.02 PETRA III at DESY (Germany), article and animation on their website DESY X-ray lightsource identifies promising candidate for COVID drugs

2021.03.26 Diamond Light Source (UK), article on their website: New targets for antibodies in the fight against SARS-CoV-2

2021.02.23 Australian Light Source (ANSTO) Australia, article on their website: Progress on understanding what makes COVID-19 more infectious than SARS

2020.12.02 ESRF (France), article and video on their website: ESRF and UCL scientists awarded Chan Zuckerberg Initiative grant for human organ imaging project

2020.11.10 Diamond Light Source (UK), article and video on their website: From nought to sixty in six months… the unmasking of the virus behind COVID-19

2020.10.29 Canadian Light Source (Canada) video on their website: Studying how to damage the COVID-19 virus

2020.10.07 National Synchrotron Light Source II (NSLS-II) at Brookhaven Lab (NY / USA) article on their website: Steady Progress in the Battle Against COVID-19

2020.10.07 Diamond Light Source (UK), article on their website: Structural Biology identifies new information to accelerate structure-based drug design against COVID-19

2020.10.06 MAX IV (Sweden), article on their website: Tackling SARS CoV-2 viral genome replication machinery using X-rays

2020.08.31 SLAC (CA / USA), article also with news about research at Stanford Synchrotron Radiation Lightsource (SSRL): SARS-CoV-2 Spike Protein Targeted for Vaccine

2020.08.27 Diamond Light Source (UK), article on their website: Structural Biology reveals new target to neutralise COVID-19

2020.08.27 Canadian Light Source (Canada) video on their website: Developing more effective drugs

2020.08.25 Australian Synchrotron (ANSTO) (Australia) article on their website: More progress on understanding COVID-19

2020.08.24 DESY (Germany) article on their website: PETRA III provides new insights into COVID-19 lung tissue

2020.08.11 Australian Synchrotron (ANSTO) (Australia) article on their website: Unique immune system of the alpaca being used in COVID-19 research

2020.07.30 Swiss Light Source at PSI (Switzerland) article on their website: COVID-19 research: Anti-viral strategy with double effect

2020.07.29 National Synchrotron Light Source II (NSLS-II) at Brookhaven Lab (NY / USA) article on their website: Ready to join the fight against COVID-19.

2020.07.20 ALBA (Spain) article on their website: A research team from Centro de Investigaciones Biológicas Margarita Salas (CIB-CSIC) uses synchrotron light to study the possible effect of an antitumoral drug of clinical use over the viral cycle of SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus. 

2020.07.15 ALS (USA) article on their website: Antibody from SARS Survivor Neutralizes SARS-CoV-2

2020.07.14 Diamond Light Source (UK), article on their website: Engineered llama antibodies neutralise Covid-19 virus

2020.06.17 European XFEL (Germany) article on their website: Pulling Together: A collaborative research approach to study COVID-19

2020.06.15 European XFEL (Germany) article on their website: Open Science COVID19 analysis platform online

2020.06.09 APS at Argonne National Laboratory (USA) article on their website: Novel Coronavirus Research at the Advanced Photon Source

2020.05. Società Italiana di Fisica publishes an article about research done at Elettra Sincrotrone Trieste (Italy) and the Advanced Light Source (CA / USA): Accelerator facilities support COVID-19-related research

2020.05.27 Diamond Light Source (UK), new animation video demonstrating the work that has been done at Diamond’s XChem facilities.

2020.05.19 Advanced Light Source (CA / USA), article about their latest results: X-ray Experiments Zero in on COVID-19 Antibodies

2020.05.15 Swiss Light Source (Switzerland), article about their first MX results: First MX results of the priority COVID-19 call

2020.05.14 MAX VI (Sweden), article about their research: Tackling SARS CoV-2 viral genome replication machinery using X-rays

2020.05.14 CHESS (NY/USA), article: CHESS to restart in June for COVID-19 research

2020.05.14 the LEAPS initiative brings together many of our European members. The initative published this brochure: Research at LEAPS facilities fighting COVID-19

2020.05.12 Diamond Light Source (UK), article about their collaboration in a consortium: UK consortium launches COVID-19 Protein Portal to provide essential reagents for SARS-CoV-2 research

2020.05.11 Advanced Photon Source (IL/USA), article: Studying Elements from the SARS-CoV-2 Virus at the Bio-CAT Beamline

2020.05.07 European XFEL (Germany), article: European XFEL open for COVID-19 related research

2020.05.06 ESRF (France), article: World X-ray science facilities are contributing to overcoming COVID-19

2020.04.29. BESSY II at HZB (Germany), article: Corona research: Consortium of Berlin research and industry seeks active ingredients

2020.04.29. Swiss Light Source and SwissFEL at PSI (Switzerland), interview series on the PSI website: Research on Covid-19

2020.04.23. PETRA III at DESY (Germany), article: X-ray screening identifies potential candidates for corona drugs

2020.04.21. MAX IV (Sweden), article: BioMAX switches to remote operations in times of COVID-19

2020.04.16. SLAC (CA / USA), article also with news about research at Stanford Synchrotron Radiation Lightsource (SSRL): SLAC joins the global fight against COVID-19

2020.04.15 Berkeley National Lab (CA/ USA), article with a focus on the research at the Advanced Light Source (ALS):
Staff at Berkeley Lab’s X-Ray Facility Mobilize to Support COVID-19-Related Research

2020.04.07 Diamond Light Source (UK), article: Call for Chemists to contribute to the fight against COVID-19
Crowdfunding: COVID-19 Moonshot

2020.04.07. ANSTO’s Australian Synchrotron (Victoria), article: Aiding the global research effort on COVID-19

2020.04.06. National Synchrotron Light Source II (NSLS-II) at Brookhaven Lab (NY / USA), article: Brookhaven Lab Mobilizes Resources in Fight Against COVID-19

2020.04.02. BESSY II at HZB (Germany), article: Corona research: Two days of measuring operation to find the right key

2020.03.31 Diamond Light Source (UK), article: Jointly with Exscientia and Scripps Research, Diamond aims to accelerate the search for drugs to treat COVID-19

2020.03.27 Argonne National Laboratory with the Advanced Photon Source (APS) and other facilities on-site (IL / USA), article: Argonne’s researchers and facilities playing a key role in the fight against COVID-19

2020.03.27 ANSTO’s Australian Synchrotron (Victoria), article and video: Helping in the fight against COVID-19

2020.03.25 PETRA III at DESY (Germany), article: Research team will X-ray coronavirus proteins

2020.03.23 Diamond Light Source (UK) releases its first animation explaining: SARS-CoV-2 Mpro Single Crystal Crystallography

2020.03.25 CERN Courrier (Switzerland) article about synchrotron research on SARS-CoV-2, written by Tessa Charles (accelerator physicist at the University of Melbourne currently based at CERN, completed her PhD at the Australian Synchrotron): Synchrotrons on the coronavirus frontline

2020.03.19 BESSY II at Helmholtz-Zentrum Berlin (Germany), research publication: Coronavirus SARS-CoV2: BESSY II data accelerate drug development

2020.03.19 BESSY II at Helmholtz-Zentrum Berlin (Germany), technique explanation webpage: Protein crystallography at BESSY II: A mighty tool for the search of anti-viral agents

2020.03.16 Diamond Light Source (UK), article on their “Coronavirus Science” website: Main protease structure and XChem fragment screen

2020.03.12. Elettra Sincrotrone (Italy), article on their website: New project to fight the spread of Coronavirus has been approved

2020.03.05. Advanced Photon Source (IL / USA), article on their website: APS Coronavirus Research in the Media Spotlight

2020.03.05. Advanced Photon Source (IL / USA), research publication: “Crystal structure of Nsp15 endoribonuclease NendoU from SARS-CoV-2,” bioRXiv preprint  DOI: 10.1101/2020.03.02.968388, Article on their website (source: Northwestern University): New Coronavirus Protein Reveals Drug Target

Rapid access

Scientists can apply for rapid access at following facilities (only member facilities of are referenced, the most recent published (or updated) call is mentioned first).

  • The National Synchrotron Light Source II (NSLS-II) in NY / USA is offering a streamlined and expedited rapid access proposal process for groups that require beam time for structural biology projects directly related to COVID-19. The Center for Biomolecular Structure team is supporting remote macromolecular crystallography experiments at Beamlines 17-ID-1 (AMX) and 17-ID-2 (FMX) in this research area. To submit a macromolecular crystallography proposal for COVID-19 related research, use the following form:
  • The Advanced Photon Source (APS) at Argonne National Laboratory in IL / USA  user program is operational to support:

·         Research on SARS-CoV-2 or other COVID-19-related research that addresses the current pandemic.

·         Critical, proprietary pharmaceutical research.

·         Mail-in/remote access work for any research involving low-risk samples and most medium-risk samples (as defined on the APS ESAF form).

·         Limited in situ research (set-up with one person, and ability to carry out majority of experiment safely remotely)

PETRA III at DESY in Germany offers also Fast Track Access for Corona-related research:

Australian Synchrotron at ANSTO makes its macromolecular crystallography beamlines available to structural biologists in response to the COVID-19 pandemic:

North American DOE lightsource facilities have created a platform to enable COVID-19 research. There you can find ressources and points of contact to request priority access:
Structural Biology Resources at DOE Light Sources

Elettra Sincrotrone Trieste in Italy opens to remote acces following beamlines: XRD1, XRD2, SISSI-BIO and MCX thanks to an CERIC-ERIC initiative:

The Advanced Light Source (ALS) at LBNL in California / USA has capabilities relevant to COVID-19 and researchers can apply through their RAPIDD mechanism:

ALBA Synchrotron in Spain offers a COVID-19 RAPID ACCESS on all beamlines:

SOLARIS Synchrotron in Poland gives acces to its Cryo Electron Microscope thanks to an CERIC-ERIC initiative:

Swiss Light Source and Swiss FEL at PSI in Switzerland offer priority access to combating COVID-19:

Diamond Light Source in the United Kingdom opened also a call for rapid access:

Image: Electron density at the active site of the SARS-CoV-2 protease, revealing a fragment bound
Credit: Diamond Light Source

Secrets of skyrmions revealed

Why skyrmions could have a lot in common with glass and high-temperature superconductors

Spawned by the spins of electrons in magnetic materials, these tiny whirlpools behave like independent particles and could be the future of computing. Experiments with SLAC’s X-ray laser are revealing their secrets.

Scientists have known for a long time that magnetism is created by the spins of electrons lining up in certain ways. But about a decade ago, they discovered another astonishing layer of complexity in magnetic materials: Under the right conditions, these spins can form little vortexes or whirlpools that act like particles and move around independently of the atoms that spawned them.

The tiny whirlpools are called skyrmions, named after Tony Skyrme, the British physicist who predicted their existence in 1962. Their small size and sturdy nature – like knots that are hard to undo – have given rise to a rapidly expanding field devoted to understanding them better and exploiting their strange qualities.

“These objects represent some of the most sophisticated forms of magnetic order that we know about,” said Josh Turner, a staff scientist at the Department of Energy’s SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory and principal investigator with the Stanford Institute for Materials and Energy Sciences (SIMES) at SLAC.

Read more on the SLAC website

Images: Top: Images based on simulations show how three phases of matter, including skyrmions – tiny whirlpools created by the spins of electrons – can form in certain magnetic materials. They are stripes of electron spin (left); hexagonal lattices (right); and an in-between phase (center) that’s a mixture of the two. In this middle, glass-like state, skyrmions move very slowly, like cars in a traffic jam – one of several discoveries made in recent studies by scientists at SLAC, Stanford, Berkeley Lab and UC San Diego. Bottom: Patterns formed in a detector during experiments that explored fundamentals of skyrmion behavior at SLAC’s Linac Coherent Light Source X-ray free-electron laser.

Credit: Esposito et al., Applied Physics Letters, 2020

Understanding how a key antibody targets cancer cells

Immunotherapy can be used as a precise intervention in cancer treatments. Jean-Philippe Julien is a Canada Research Chair in Structural Immunology, a Senior Scientist in the Molecular Medicine Program at The Hospital for Sick Children (SickKids), and an Associate Professor in the Departments of Biochemistry and Immunology at the University of Toronto. Along with colleagues from the U.S., Spain and Canada, he used the Canadian Light Source at the University of Saskatchewan to study how a candidate antibody therapeutic interacts with a surface receptor on cancer cells, which provides important molecular insights for designing improved cancer therapies. He mentioned how the synchrotron is “incredibly important for researchers like myself” and how “we cannot do the research that we do without it.” The team used the CMCF beamline at the CLS and their findings were published in the Journal of Biological Chemistry.Immunotherapy can be used as a precise intervention in cancer treatments. Jean-Philippe Julien is a Canada Research Chair in Structural Immunology, a Senior Scientist in the Molecular Medicine Program at The Hospital for Sick Children (SickKids), and an Associate Professor in the Departments of Biochemistry and Immunology at the University of Toronto. Along with colleagues from the U.S., Spain and Canada, he used the Canadian Light Source at the University of Saskatchewan to study how a candidate antibody therapeutic interacts with a surface receptor on cancer cells, which provides important molecular insights for designing improved cancer therapies. He mentioned how the synchrotron is “incredibly important for researchers like myself” and how “we cannot do the research that we do without it.” The team used the CMCF beamline at the CLS and their findings were published in the Journal of Biological Chemistry.

Learn more on the CLS website

Image: Jean-Philippe Julien

Credit: Canadian Light Source

Laurent Chapon to lead Argonne’s Advanced Photon Source

Laurent Chapon has been appointed director of the Advanced Photon Source (APS). Chapon will lead the Photon Sciences Directorate at the U.S. Department of Energy’s Argonne National Laboratory through a massive upgrade of the user facility.

Lemont, IL – October 7, 2021 – The U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Argonne National Laboratory has named Laurent Chapon as associate laboratory director for Photon Sciences and director of the Advanced Photon Source (APS), a DOE Office of Science User Facility at Argonne. He will begin his new role on January 10, 2022.

Chapon will join Argonne from Diamond Light Source in the United Kingdom, where he has been the director of physical sciences since 2016. Chapon led the scientific strategy in this division and oversaw five of Diamond’s eight science groups, which encompasses 22 X-ray beamlines and two electron microscopes. He led groups dedicated to technological advancements in optics, metrology and detectors technology at the facility and oversaw the Project Office, User Office, and Experiment Hall groups.

As part of Argonne’s senior management team, Chapon will lead the APS through a time of extraordinary change. The APS Upgrade project will result in a transformed facility that will generate X-ray beams up to 500 times brighter than those it currently delivers. This will require a year-long shutdown of the APS, currently scheduled to begin in April of 2023, and will keep the facility at the forefront of the world’s light sources for scientific discovery.

Read more on the Argonne National Laboratory website

Image: Laurent Chapon

Credit: Lise Chapon

Multifunctional cellulose filter paper for use as electrical nanogenerator

A research team led by Prof. Dr. Naratip Vittayakorn from King Mongkut’s Institute of Technology Ladkrabang successfully developed the multifunctional cellulose filter paper for use as Triboelectric Nanogenerator (TENG). TENG generates electricity when nano surfaces are rubbing or contacting together which can transform mechanical or heat energy at small amount into electricity. Moreover, TENG is a nanomaterial known for its light weight, low price, and high efficiency.

TENG consists of Ti0.8O2nanosheets (Ti0.8O2NSs) which is a dielectric material capable of storing electricity, and Ag nanoparticles (Ag NPs) which has electrical conductivity property. The research team applied the Synchrotron X-ray Tomographic Microscopy (XTM) technique at the XTM end-station, Synchrotron Light Research Institute (Public Organization) to study and analyze the research outcome. By applying this technique, the research team can clearly detect scattering patterns of both Ti0.8O2NSs and Ag NPs in different layers of the filter paper.

Read more on the SLRI website

Image: Figure 1 (a)-(d) showing 3D graphic photos gained from applying Synchrotron XTM technique on each layer of composite film in the multifunctional cellulose filter paper consisting of 3 Ti0.8O2NSs layers and 5 Ag NPs layers (scattering patterns of PDMS, the multifunctional cellulose filter paper, Ti0.8O2NSs, and Ag NPs were shown in purple, yellow, light blue, and red, respectively).

An X-ray view of carbon

New measurement method promises spectacular insights into the interior of planets

At the heart of planets, extreme states are to be found: temperatures of thousands of degrees, pressures a million times greater than atmospheric pressure. They can therefore only be explored directly to a limited extent – which is why the expert community is trying to use sophisticated experiments to recreate equivalent extreme conditions. An international research team including the Helmholtz-Zentrum Dresden-Rossendorf (HZDR) has adapted an established measurement method to these extreme conditions and tested it successfully: Using the light flashes of the world’s strongest X-ray laser the team managed to take a closer look at the important element, carbon, along with its chemical properties. As reported in the journal Physics of Plasmas (DOI: 10.1063/5.0048150), the method now has the potential to deliver new insights into the interior of planets both within and outside of our solar system.

The heat is unimaginable, the pressure huge: The conditions in the interior of Jupiter or Saturn ensure that the matter found there exhibits an unusual state: It is as dense as a metal but, at the same time, electrically charged like a plasma. “We refer to this state as warm dense matter,” explains Dominik Kraus, physicist at HZDR and professor at the University of Rostock. “It is a transitional state between solid state and plasma that is found in the interior of planets, although it can occur briefly on Earth, too, for example during meteor impacts.” Examining this state of matter in any detail in the lab is a complicated process involving, for example, firing strong laser flashes at a sample, and, for the blink of an eye, heating and condensing it.

Read more on the HZDR website

Image: High-resolution spectroscopy will enable unique insights into chemistry happening deep inside planets

Credit: HZDR / U. Lehmann

Connecting the dots between material properties and qubit performance

Engineers and materials scientists studying superconducting quantum information bits (qubits)—a leading quantum computing material platform based on the frictionless flow of paired electrons—have collected clues hinting at the microscopic sources of qubit information loss. This loss is one of the major obstacles in realizing quantum computers capable of stringing together millions of qubits to run demanding computations. Such large-scale, fault-tolerant systems could simulate complicated molecules for drug development, accelerate the discovery of new materials for clean energy, and perform other tasks that would be impossible or take an impractical amount of time (millions of years) for today’s most powerful supercomputers.

An understanding of the nature of atomic-scale defects that contribute to qubit information loss is still largely lacking. The team helped bridge this gap between material properties and qubit performance by using state-of-the-art characterization capabilities at the Center for Functional Nanomaterials (CFN) and National Synchrotron Light Source II (NSLS-II), both U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) Office of Science User Facilities at Brookhaven National Laboratory. Their results pinpointed structural and surface chemistry defects in superconducting niobium qubits that may be causing loss. 

Read more on the BNL website

Image: Scientists performed transmission electron microscopy and x-ray photoelectron spectroscopy (XPS) at Brookhaven Lab’s Center for Functional Nanomaterials and National Synchrotron Light Source II to characterize the properties of niobium thin films made into superconducting qubit devices at Princeton University. A transmission electron microscope image of one of these films is shown in the background; overlaid on this image are XPS spectra (colored lines representing the relative concentrations of niobium metal and various niobium oxides as a function of film depth) and an illustration of a qubit device. Through these and other microscopy and spectroscopy studies, the team identified atomic-scale structural and surface chemistry defects that may be causing loss of quantum information—a hurdle to enabling practical quantum computers.

Delivering drugs using nanocrystals

Monash University researchers have used advanced techniques at ANSTO to investigate the production of new, elongated polymer nanocapsules with a high payload of drug nanocrystals to potentially increase drug targetability, and also decrease dosage frequency and side effects.

This method had not been investigated previously and represents a pioneering method of investigation in the field of colloidal science applications for drug delivery.

Nanoparticles have been used to increase the delivery efficiency of cancer therapy because of their biocompatibility, versatility and the easiness of functionalisation.

The team engineered novel elongated polymer nanocapsules, which are unlike the more well-known spherical nanocapsules.

The elongated polymer nanocapsules were made with elongated liposomes or surfactant vesicles and used drug nanocrystals as a template. 

The results provided strong evidence that the elongated structure could be retained, and also confirmed that the loading method to form rod-like drug nanocrystals inside liposomes was a practical solution.

The combination of the high drug payload, in the form of encapsulated nanocrystals, and the non-spherical feature of liposomes represented a more efficient delivery system.

Spherical hollow nanocapsules have been studied extensively, but the formation of elongated nanocapsules containing active pharmaceuticals as therapeutic agents has been previously largely unsuccessful. 

Read more on the ANSTO website

Image: Elongated nanocapsules can be prepared by polymerisation at the surface of elongated liposome templates with drug nanocrystals

X-ray microscopy with 1000 tomograms per second

Tomoscopy is an imaging method in which three-dimensional images of the inside of materials are reconstructed in rapid succession. A new world record has now been set at the Swiss Light Source at the Paul Scherrer Institute: with 1000 tomograms per second, it is now possible to non-destructively capture very fast processes and structural changes in materials on the micrometre scale, such as the burning of a sparkler or the foaming of a metal alloy for the production of stable lightweight materials. 

Most people are familiar with computed tomography from medicine: a part of the body is X-rayed from all sides and a three-dimensional image is then calculated, from which any sectional images can be created for diagnosis.

This method is also very useful for material analysis, non-destructive quality testing or in the development of new functional materials. However, to examine such materials with high spatial resolution and in the shortest possible time, the particularly intense X-ray light of a synchrotron light source is required. In the synchrotron light, even rapid changes and processes in material samples can be visualised if it is possible to capture 3-dimensional images in a very short time sequence.

A team led by Francisco García Moreno from the Helmholtz Centre Berlin is working on this, together with researchers from the Swiss Light Source SLS at the Paul Scherrer Institute (PSI). Two years ago, they managed a record 200 tomograms per second, calling the method of fast imaging “tomoscopy”. Now the team has achieved a new world record: with 1000 tomograms per second, they can now record even faster processes in materials or during the manufacturing process. This is achieved without any major compromises in the other parameters: the spatial resolution is still very good at several micrometres, the field of view is several square millimetres and continuous recording periods of up to several minutes are possible.

Read more on the PSI website

Image: Christian Schlepütz at the Tomcat beamline of the Swiss Light Source SLS, where a team of scientists have developed a 3D imaging method capable of recording 1,000 tomograms per second.

Credit: Paul Scherrer Institute/Mahir Dzambegovic

Nano-precision metrology of X-ray mirrors

Synchrotrons work like a giant microscope, and they both need mirrors and lenses to bend and shape light. The better control we have over the light source, the more we can see. The quality of images that can be captured using a microscope or a synchrotron rely heavily on the optics used.

As technology has advanced over the past few decades and as synchrotron users push the boundaries of what can be achieved, there has been a lot of excitement over the upgrades of synchrotron mirrors and what that can mean for the experiments that can be done.

However, there is a bottleneck for the production of new and improved X-ray optics like mirrors. It turns out that it is hard to develop metrology instruments that can validate and measure the quality of new high-precision mirrors. Producing these instruments and alleviating the bottleneck is the goal of the metrology community, as they say, if you cannot test something, you cannot manufacture it.

Using the properties of speckle to get better measurements

The metrology community has made significant advances by making improvements to existing techniques to test X-ray mirrors. However, a team from Diamond set about creating a brand-new instrument which can potentially improve the toolbox for metrologists and manufacturers around the world.

Read more on the Diamond website

Image: Dr Hongchang Wang (Left) is supervising his PhD student Simone Moriconi (Right) for testing SAM system

X-ray insights may enable better plastics production

Analysis helps to understand fragmentation of catalyst particles in ethylene polymerisation

An X-ray study at DESY is pointing the way towards a better understanding of plastics production. A team led by Utrecht University investigated so-called Ziegler-type catalysts, the workhorses in the world’s polyethylene and polypropylene production, at DESY’s X-ray source PETRA III. As the scientists report in the journal JACS Au, the catalyst microparticles fragment into an astonishing variety of smaller particles during polymer production. The results allow for a better finetuning of desired polymer properties and may even help to further increase polymer yield.

Polyolefins, such as polyethylene (PE) and polypropylene (PP), play an important role in everyday life. Applications range from food packaging to increase the lifetime of the product to the sterile packing of medical equipment to the insulation of electrical cables. To prepare tailored polyolefins on demand, a versatile class of catalyst materials, such as the Ziegler-type catalysts, are used that consist of very small particles containing various metals such as titanium.

The catalyst particles have typical sizes of only a few tens of micrometres (thousandths of a millimetre), that is, less than the thickness of a human hair. Thanks to these catalysts, polyethylene can be produced at ambient pressure and temperature and with enhanced material characteristics. “Polyolefin research today focusses on specifically tailoring polymer properties to the demands of customers, and this is where insights about the polymerisation process such as the ones obtained in this study are crucial,” explains Koen Bossers from Utrecht University, first author of the study.

Read more on the DESY website

Image: 434 particles were imaged simultaneously with a resolution of 74 nm and identified and characterised individually with respect to their geometrical properties and fragmentation behaviour. The displayed rendering shows a virtual cut through the tomographic data set where each identified particle is color-coded for better visualisation. Most particles are about 5-6 microns in diameter. The data has further been segmented into regions of similar electron density to separate polymer from catalyst fragments within each particle; these regions are displayed in blue, green, orange, and red and visualised via the virtual cut though the 3-D representation of the catalyst particles. This segmentation allowed for a detailed analysis of the fragmentation behaviour of each particle

Credit: Utrecht University, Roozbeh Valadian

Scientists tackle indoor air pollution

People on average spend nearly 90% of their time indoors and, especially in the cold winter months in Canada, this statistic can be even higher. With all that time spent indoors, filtering out pollutants from indoor air is very important for the health of Canadians.

Researchers from the College of Engineering at the University of Saskatchewan (USask) have been developing a catalyst for a new type of air purifying technique that would clean air at room temperature.

“Ozone is one of the strongest purifying agents that has been used in the water treatment industry for a long time. In our research, we use ozone and an effective catalyst to purify indoor air from Volatile Organic Compounds or VOCs,” explained PhD student Mehraneh Ghavami.

Ghavami and co-researcher Dr. Jafar Soltan used the HXMA beamline at the Canadian Light Source (CLS) at USask to discover which types of metal catalysts would work best for eliminating pollutants out of the air and recently published their findings.

Their air purifying system uses ozone gas and a catalyst to remove indoor air pollutants and turn them into carbon dioxide and water.

Read more on the Canadian Light Source website

Image: Mehraneh Ghavami using the CLS’ HXMA beamline

Credit: CLS

Probing the Structure of a Promising NASICON Material

As physicists, materials scientists, and engineers continue striving to enhance and improve batteries and other energy storage technologies, a key focus is on finding or designing new ways to make electrodes and electrolytes.  One promising avenue of research involves solid-state materials, making possible batteries free of liquid electrolytes, which can pose fire and corrosion hazards.  An international group of researchers joined with scientists at Argonne National Laboratory to investigate the structure of crystalline and amorphous compounds based on the NASICON system, or sodium super-ion conductors. The work (using research carried out at the U.S. Department of Energy’s Advanced Photon Source [APS] and published in the Journal of Chemical Physics) reveals some substantial differences between the crystalline and glass phases of the NAGP system, which affect the ionic conductivity of the various materials.  The investigators note that the fraction of non-bridging oxygen (NBO) atoms appears to play a significant role, possibly altering the Na+ ion mobility, and suggest this as an area of further study.  The work provides fresh insights into the process of homogeneous nucleation and identifying superstructural units in glass ― a necessary step in engineering effective solid-state electrolytes with enhanced ionic conductivity. 

Because of their high ionic conductivity, materials with a NASICON structure are prime candidates for a solid electrolyte in sodium-ion batteries.  They can be prepared by a glass-ceramic route, which involves the crystallization of a precursor glass, giving them the usefulness of moldable bulk materials.  In this work, the research team specifically studied the NAGP system [Na1+xAlxGe2-x(PO4)3] with x = 0, 0.4 and 0.8 in both crystalline and glassy forms. Working at several different facilities, they used a combination of techniques, including neutron and x-ray diffraction, along with 27Al and 31P magic angle spinning and 31P/23Na double-resonance nuclear magnetic resonance spectroscopy.  The glassy form of NAGP materials was examined both in its as-prepared state and after thermal annealing, so that the changes on crystal nucleation could be studied.

Neutron powder diffraction measurements were performed at the BER II reactor source, Helmholtz-Zentrum Berlin, using the fine resolution powder diffractometer E9 (FIREPOD), followed by Rietveld analysis.  Further neutron diffraction observations were conducted at the Institut Laue-Langevin using the D4c diffractometer and at the ISIS pulsed neutron source using the GEM diffractometer.  X-ray diffraction studies were performed at X-ray Science Division Magnetic Materials Group’s beamline 6-ID-D of the APS, an Office of Science user facility at Argonne National Laboratory. 

Read more on the APS website

Image: Fig. 1. NASICON crystal structure showing the tetrahedral P(4) phosphate motifs (purple), octahedral GeO6 motifs (cyan) and Na+ ions (green). Oxygen atoms are depicted in red.

Molecular IgG3 structure paves the way for new applications of antibodies

A combination of scattering and analytical techniques has provided the first atomic-level structural model for the IgG3 antibody

In humans, Immunoglobulin (IgG) is the most common type of antibody found in blood circulation. IgG molecules are created by plasma B cells, and there are four subclasses. Of the four, IgG3 is the least understood. It has a uniquely long hinge region separating its Fab antigen-binding and Fc receptor-binding regions. The presence of this elongated hinge makes it challenging to perform structural studies, for example, with X-ray crystallography. Due to this lack of structural information, IgG3 is the only subclass not currently exploited for therapeutic uses. In work recently published in the Journal of Biological Chemistry, researchers from University College London and the University of Birmingham have used a combination of imaging and analytical methods to provide the first experimentally determined molecular structural model for a full-length IgG3 antibody. This new information should enable the use of IgG3 to develop new therapies and antibody tests. 

Getting a good look at IgG3

A high-resolution structure for part of the IgG3 molecule, the globular IgG3-Fc fragment, is available. And previous studies of the whole molecule using Small Angle X-ray Scattering (SAXS) and analytical ultracentrifugation (AUC) showed that IgG3 is elongated compared to IgG1, IgG2 and IgG4. SAXS also showed that IgG3 has a more extended central hinge than IgG1 and IgG2 that links its three globular regions together.  

Read more on the Diamond website

Image: The IgG3 structural model is formed from two globular Fab regions, a long hinge in the centre, and one Fc region, as shown from the scattering modelling fits. The structure is reminiscent of a giraffe with an extended and semi-rigid neck.

Dr Valentina Spiteri, UCL.

Examining individual neurons from different perspectives

Correlative imaging of a single neuronal cell opens the door to profound multi-perspective sub-cellular examinations

Scientists combined two nano-imaging techniques that stand at opposite ends of the electromagnetic spectrum to demonstrate the benefits of correlative imaging to examine individual neurons from different perspectives.

To showcase this, they studied the molecular structures of amyloid proteins and investigated the role metal ions may play in the development of Alzheimer’s Disease at a previously never achieved resolution. Their detailed observations at the sub-cellular level underscore the potential of using combined nanospectroscopic tools to deal with uncertainties due to the complex nature of a biological sample.

Alzheimer’s Disease is the most common cause of dementia. Many research groups are working to reveal molecular mechanisms to better understand the process by which the disease evolves. Due to the current lack of effective treatments that could stop or prevent Alzheimer’s Disease, new approaches are necessary to find out how people can age without memory loss.

High-resolution microscopy techniques such as electron microscopy and immunofluorescence microscopy are most often used to detect amyloidogenic protein molecules, often considered key factors in the disease’s evolution. However, these commonly used methods generally lack the sensitivity necessary to depict molecular structures. This is why scientists from Lund University in collaboration with SOLEIL and MAX IV carried out a proof of concept study which showcases that combining two imaging modalities can be used as effective tools to assess structural and chemical information directly within a single cell.

Read more on the MAX IV website

Image: a O-PTIR setup: a pulsed, tunable IR laser is guided onto the sample surface (1). b X-ray fluorescence nanoimaging of individual neuronal cells deposited on Si3N4 (1). c Conceptualization of the data analysis based on superimposed optical, O-PTIR, and S-XRF images.

Disorder brings out quantum physical talents

Quantum effects are most noticeable at extremely low temperatures, which limits their usefulness for technical applications. Thin films of MnSb2Te4, however, show new talents due to a small excess of manganese. Apparently, the resulting disorder provides spectacular properties: The material proves to be a topological insulator and is ferromagnetic up to comparatively high temperatures of 50 Kelvin, measurements at BESSY II show.  This makes this class of material suitable for quantum bits, but also for spintronics in general or applications in high-precision metrology.

Quantum effects such as the anomalous quantum Hall effect enable sensors of highest sensitivity, are the basis for spintronic components in future information technologies and also for qubits in quantum computers of the future. However, as a rule, the quantum effects relevant for this only show up clearly enough to make use of them at very low temperatures near absolute zero and in special material systems.

Read more on the HZB website

Image: The Dirac cone is typical for topological insulators and is practically unchanged on all 6 images (ARPES measurements at BESSY II). The blue arrow additionally shows the valence electrons in the volume. The synchrotron light probes both and can thus distinguish the Dirac cone at the surface (electrically conducting) from the three-dimensional volume (insulating).

Credit: © HZB