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


Published articles

2021.12.09 Diamond Light Source (UK) article on their website: Trigger of rare blood clots with AstraZeneca and other COVID vaccines found by scientists

2021.11.06 APS at Argonne National Laboratory (USA) article on their website: Advanced Photon Source Helps Pfizer Create COVID-19 Antiviral Treatment

2021.11.04 ESRF (France) article on their website: EBS X-rays show lung vessels altered by COVID-19 (

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

Facility Covid-19 research pages

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:

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

Superstore MXene: New proton hydration structure determined

MXenes are able to store large amounts of electrical energy like batteries and to charge and discharge rather quickly like a supercapacitor. They combine both talents and thus are a very interesting class of materials for energy storage. The material is structured like a kind of puff pastry, with the MXene layers separated by thin water films. A team at HZB has now investigated how protons migrate in the water films confined between the layers of the material and enable charge transport. Their results have been published in the renowned journal Nature Communications and may accelerate the optimisation of these kinds of energy storage materials.

One of the biggest challenges for a climate-neutral energy supply is the storage of electrical energy. Conventional batteries can hold large amounts of energy, but the charging and discharging processes take time. Supercapacitors, on the other hand, charge very quickly but are limited in the amount of stored energy. Only in the last few years has a new class of materials been discussed that combines the advantages of batteries with those of supercapacitors, named pseudocapacitors.

Promising materials: Pseudocapacitors

Among pseudocapacitive materials, so-called MXenes consisting of a large family of 2D transition metal carbides and nitrides appear particularly promising. Their structure resembles a puff pastry, with the individual layers separated by a thin film of water that enables the transport of charges. Titanium carbide MXenes, especially, are conductive and their layered structure combined with highly negatively-charged hydrophilic surfaces offers a unique material in which positively charged ions such as protons can diffuse very efficiently. The MXenes used in this study were synthesized in the group of Prof. Yury Gogotsi in Drexel University, USA.

Charge transport examined

Over the last years, this property has been used to store and release energy from protons at unprecedented rates in acidic environment. It remains though unclear if the charges are mostly stored based on proton adsorption at the MXene surface or through desolvation of proton in the MXene interlayer.

Confinement effect expected

Due to its two-dimensional geometry, the 2-3 layer thick water film trapped between the MXene layers is expected to solvate protons differently from bulk water that we classically know. While this confinement effect is supposed to play a role in the fast diffusion of protons inside MXene materials, it has been impossible until now to characterise protons inside a MXene electrode during charging and discharging.

Vibrational modes analysed

The team led by Dr. Tristan Petit at HZB has now succeeded in doing this for the first time by analysing vibrational modes of protons excited by infrared light. Postdoctoral researcher Dr Mailis Lounasvuori has developed an operando electrochemical cell that she used to analyse protons and water inside titanium carbide MXenes at BESSY II during the charging and discharging processes. In the process, she also succeeded in distilling out the special signature of the protons in the confined water between the MXene layers.

Read more on the HZB website

Image: The experiment: Infrared light excites protons in the water film, which move between the Ti3C2-MXene layers. Their oscillation patterns show that they behave differently than in a thicker film of water.

Credit: © M. Künsting /HZB

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

The first X-ray images recorded at POLYX beamline

POLYX is a beamline under construction at SOLARIS that is focused on X-ray microimaging and microspectroscopy in the tender/hard energy range of 4-15 keV. A recent publication described the general concept of the beamline and showed first X-ray images measured at POLYX with a white (polychromatic) X-ray beam. Performed experiments demonstrated the possibility of X-ray phase contrast imaging of weakly absorbing test samples and focusing of the X-ray beam with polycapilllary optics for X-ray fluorescence imaging of elemental distribution inside samples.

POLYX is a compact beamline that is being constructed at SOLARIS and is scheduled for user operation in 2023. The main idea behind POLYX is to provide SOLARIS users with access to X-ray microimaging and X-ray microspectroscopic methods at higher energies (4 keV–15 keV) without using insertion devices or sophisticated X-ray optics. The name POLYX originates from polycapillary optics that will be extensively used to concentrate not only monochromatic, but also polychromatic X-rays.

Read more on the SOLARIS website

Engineered wall paint could kill corona viruses

Investigation of aerosols on titanium dioxide shows promising routes to surface and air disinfection

Common wall paint could potentially be modified to kill the Corona virus and many other pathogens. This is an important finding of a study from a research team including DESY scientists on the virus-killing effect of titanium dioxide (TiO2), a ubiquitous white pigment that is found in paints, plastic products and sunscreens. TiO2 also has many other important applications relevant to environmental sustainability and renewable energy. The international team led by Heshmat Noei from the DESY NanoLab reports its results in the journal Applied Materials & Interfaces published by the American Chemical Society (ACS).

“Titanium dioxide is widely used as a pigment to whiten a wide range of products,” explains Noei. “But it is also a powerful catalyst in many applications such as air and water purification and self-cleaning materials. Therefore, we saw it as a promising candidate for a virus inactivating coating.” Teaming up with the group of virologist Ulrike Protzer and Greg Ebert from the research centre Helmholtz Munich and the Technische Universität München, the scientists tested titanium dioxide´s power against the corona virus. “We were the first to apply corona viruses on a titanium dioxide surface and investigate what happens,” says Noei.

Hard X-ray photoelectron spectroscopy at the PETRA III beamline P22 at DESY provides the necessary high chemical and elemental sensitivity to resolve subtle chemical changes. The research team investigated the contact process on the surface and was able to clarify that the amino acids of the corona virus spike protein attach to the titanium dioxide surface, trapping the virus and preventing it from binding to human cells. “We found that the virus adsorbs to the titanium dioxide surface and cannot detach again and will eventually be inactivated by dehydration and be denatured,” explains the paper´s main author Mona Kohantorabi from the DESY NanoLab. “Moreover, the titanium dioxide catalyses the inactivation of the virus by light. For our study we used ultraviolet light, which triggered the inactivation of the virus within 30 minutes, but we believe the catalyst can be further optimised to accelerate the inactivation and, more importantly, work under standard indoor lighting. We believe it could then be used as an antiviral coating for walls, windows and other surfaces for instance in hospitals, schools, airports, elderly homes and kindergardens.”

Read more on the DESY website

Image: An image taken with an atomic force microscope from the investigation: The SARS-CoV-2 particles (light) adsorb on the titanium dioxide surface. There, structural proteins are inactivated by denaturation and oxidation by light irradiation.

Credit: DESY Nanolab, Mona Kohantorabi

Attacking cancer cells from the inside out

Researchers from the University of Toronto (U of T) are harnessing the power of proteins to stop cancer cells in their tracks.

“Proteins are the workhorses of the cell,” said Walid A. Houry, professor of biochemistry at U of T. “They define the cell and allow it to divide or migrate if needed.”

The team is especially interested in proteases, enzymes that chew up old or misfolded proteins and act as cellular quality control. Houry and his colleagues used the CMCF beamline at the Canadian Light Source (CLS) at the University of Saskatchewan to identify key compounds affecting these quality control mechanisms that cause cell dysfunction and, ultimately, cell death. Their research paper was recently published in Structure.

“Let’s say you have a small puppy and when you leave it in the room, it starts chewing your sofa, your carpet; it’s just hyper and eating everything up,” Houry said. The compounds cause the proteases to act like the puppy, “and the cell cannot handle this type of disruption to its machinery.”

By targeting the cell’s self-destruct button, Houry’s team, including collaborators at Madera Therapeutics, is designing a new approach to cancer therapy. Synchrotron techniques allowed the researchers to visualize the interaction between their compounds and the proteases.

Houry said hard-to-treat cancers like glioblastomas and certain types of breast cancers are good candidates for this new approach.

“Instead of inhibiting a protease, we are hyperactivating the protease, and that is unique.”

The CLS is crucial to the team’s work.

“Synchrotron technology is extremely important for us and our structure-based drug design,” he said. “We want to know why the protein is going wild when we add our compound.”

Read more on the CLS website

Image: Houry research team

Diamond launches major recruitment campaign at AAAS

Coinciding with Women’s History Month, and in the lead up to International Women’s Day, four of Diamond’s STEM champions launch a new recruitment drive

Today, at the prestigious AAAS science conference in Washington DC, Diamond will unveil plans for its biggest recruitment campaign since its inception 20 years ago. Dozens of new roles will be available in the coming year and some examples of the variety of STEM careers will be showcased and celebrated by an all-women lineup from the Diamond team. This recruitment drive aims to ensure the facility has the knowledge and expertise required to help plan and deliver world leading science for the next decade and beyond.

In the lead-up to International Women’s Day (8th March), Diamond’s workshop will shine a light on career pathways in world-changing science. A panel of four women from Diamond will address how their work across science and engineering helps to address 21st century challenges from energy research to pandemic preparedness.  They will share their professional journeys and insights into their roles. Job roles range from scientists, engineers, software experts, technicians to professional roles all essential to enabling the most brilliant science performed by scientists at Diamond. 

Through part of the next decade, Diamond will deliver an upgrade programme called Diamond-II. To continue delivering the world-changing science that Diamond leads and enables, Diamond-II is a project that will deliver a new machine and new beamlines with a comprehensive series of upgrades to optics, detectors, sample environments, sample delivery capabilities and computing. 

Details on the panel:

The workshop panel will feature Dr Lorraine Bobb – Head of Diagnostics Group; Sarah Macdonell – Head of Beamline Systems Engineering; Dr Chidinma Okolo – Beamline Scientist at B24 and Dr Lucy Saunders – Beamline Scientist at I11. It will be chaired by Isabelle Boscaro-Clarke – Head of Impact, Communications and Engagement, with an interactive Q&A session facilitated by Molly Pekarik Fry – Web and Digital Content Manager.

Read more on the Diamond website

Image: L to R the Diamond Light Source Panel : Dr Chidinma Okolo – Beamline Scientist at B24; Molly Pekarik Fry – Web and Digital Content Manager, Sarah Macdonell – Head of Beamline Systems Engineering; Isabelle Boscaro-Clarke – Head of Impact, Communications and Engagement; Dr Lorraine Bobb – Head of Diagnostics Group; Dr Lucy Saunders – Beamline Scientist at I11

Building Particle Accelerators Takes More Than a Village

From magnets to power supplies, NSLS-II experts support accelerator upgrades across the Nation.

Each year, thousands of people travel far and wide to see architectural marvels such as the towering steps of the Kukulcán temple in in Chichen Itza or the intricate facade of the Cologne Cathedral in Germany. Like these marvels of history and culture, thousands of researchers travel to the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE’s) five light source facilities each year. They don’t come for the views, though, they come to push the boundaries of science—in fields ranging from batteries to pharmaceuticals—by using the ultrabright synchrotron light, mostly x-rays, from these facilities to conduct experiments.

This light doesn’t just appear out of nowhere. It needs to be generated by large, complex particle accelerators. And, to keep the x-rays as bright as possible, scientists and engineers are working constantly to advance them. This story highlights ongoing collaborative projects of the Accelerator Division at the National Synchrotron Light Source II (NSLS-II), located at DOE’s Brookhaven Lab.

According to historical sources, it took the Germans over 600 years to build the original Cologne Cathedral, while archeologists speculate that the Temple of Kukulcán took at least 200 years to build in two phases. Thousands of people worked on these monuments during these extremely long construction periods. This is a feat they share with modern particle accelerator projects. While the initial construction of NSLS-II took only a decade, it still involved an international effort of hundreds of people from many disciplines and professions.

From the civil engineering challenges of the building design to the construction of the hundreds of magnets inside the accelerator, it truly takes more than a village to build a particle accelerator for a synchrotron light source. Similarly, many modern accelerator projects span multiple institutions and countries to leverage the expertise in the field.

Read more on the Brookhaven National Laboratory (NBL)

Image: The photo shows a view of the National Synchrotron Light Source II (NSLS-II) accelerator tunnel located at the U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Science Brookhaven National Laboratory.

MAX IV research contributes to the development of new cancer drugs

In the battle against cancer, scientists from the drug discovery company Sprint Bioscience and researchers from MAX IV have taken important steps together toward developing new and more efficient cancer drugs with the help of fragment screening by X-ray crystallography.

Cancer accounts for nearly one out of six deaths yearly. It begins when one or more genes in a cell mutate, creating an abnormal protein or preventing a protein’s formation.

Therefore, you need to start at the protein level to fight cancer.

Sprint Bioscience is working to develop new drug candidates by identifying small molecules (fragments) that can bind targeted cancer proteins. In collaboration with researchers from the FragMAX team at MAX IV during 2019 and 2020, Sprint Bioscience optimised and developed a protein crystallisation system corresponding to a cancer protein chosen by the company.

Read more on MAX IV website

Image: Crystal incubated with fragment XB00143 mounted on the BioMAX beamline during the screening campaign.

Credit: Sprint Bioscience/BioMAX

New biocatalyst could more efficiently split water molecules

Experiment carried out on Sirius shed light on reaction fundamental to the production of hydrogen fuel

A recent experiment at Sirius, the Brazilian synchrotron light source at the Brazilian Center for Research in Energy and Materials (CNPEM) in Campinas, São Paulo (see Pesquisa FAPESP issue 269) showed how a certain biological catalyst can more efficiently split water molecules (H2O) using electrolysis. This reaction, an electrochemical process that uses electricity to break down water into the elements that comprise it, is very significant because it produces not only oxygen but also hydrogen, considered the fuel of the future by many specialists because it does not emit any polluting gases when it is utilized (see Pesquisa FAPESP issue 314).

“We discovered that when some enzymes present in nature like bilirubin oxidase (BOD) are manipulated in the lab, they can accelerate the reaction to split water,” states chemist Frank Nelson Crespilho, a professor at the University of São Paulo’s São Carlos Institute of Chemistry (IQSC-USP) who led the study. “We didn’t know why this happened; thanks to new equipment developed specifically for Sirius, we were able to observe how this enzyme, BOD, behaves during the process of oxidation in water. We found that the copper atoms within it are relevant to this reaction.”

Crespilho expects this advance to pave the way for science to get inspiration from the part of the enzyme that accelerated the reaction. “It is important for us to recognize the important regions of BOD, since today synthetic chemists that work in materials production can copy and synthesize this part of the enzyme in the laboratory. This will make the catalyst much more affordable, with a much broader range of potential applications,” he adds. Most of the catalysts used in this process utilize noble metals like platinum and iridium, making large-scale application unfeasible due to the cost involved. An article describing the experiment written by Crespilho’s team, which includes the researchers Graziela Sedenho, Rafael Colombo, Thiago Bertaglia, and Jessica Pacheco, was published in October in the journal Advanced Energy Materials. Scientists from the Brazilian Synchrotron Light National Laboratory (LNLS) also participated in the study.

Read more on the LNLS website

Image: Researcher manipulates electrochemical cell used in experiment

New electron microscope centre to advance research into structural biology and new materials

  • This cutting-edge facility will house two high-end electron microscopes: one to determine the structure of large protein complexes and another to study materials at atomic level.
  • Created thanks to the joint effort of several research institutes, the centre is located at the ALBA Synchrotron and will be open to the entire scientific community.
  • Catalan Research and Universities Minister Joaquim Nadal inaugurated the centre, which has received funding from the Catalan Government’s ERDF programme, on 24 February.

The Joint Electron Microscopy Center at ALBA (JEMCA) was created thanks to the collaboration of different research entities to launch a new centre within the ALBA Synchrotron building offering electron microscope services to the scientific community. In specific, eight different partners will be using this centre: the Institute for Molecular Biology of Barcelona (IBMB-CSIC), the Catalan Institute for Nanoscienc and Nanotechnology (ICN2), the Institute for Biomedical Research (IRB Barcelona), the Centre for Genome Regulation (CRG), the Institute for Materials Science of Barcelona (ICMAB-CSIC), the Spanish National Research Council (CSIC), the Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona (UAB), and the ALBA Synchrotron. The project definition phase also included the fundamental support of the Barcelona Institute of Science and Technology (BIST).

This is the only facility in all of Spain that allows working with tools that are complementary to the synchrotron light source with the aim of gathering more information in the field of structural biology and materials science.

The centre currently houses two microscopes: the Cryo-TEM, coordinated by the Institute for Molecular Biology of Barcelona (IBMB-CSIC), and the METCAM, coordinated by the Catalan Institute for Nanoscience and Nanotechnology (ICN2).

The Cryo-TEM microscope is key to being able to solve rapidly and with high resolution the protein structures that cannot be analysed with other techniques. This microscope is already being put to use in experiments with an elevated social return. For example, IBMB-CSIC researchers Núria Verdaguer and Pablo Guerra, in collaboration with IRB Barcelona researchers Manuel Palacín and David Aparicio and the spin-off Ona Therapeutics, are analysing a protein involved in metastatic lung cancer as well as the protein’s complex with an antibody of interest for a therapy that targets metastases. The Cryo-TEM is the second microscope of its kind in Spain and represents a great advance for the user community in this field.

Read more on the ALBA website

Researchers make a new type of quantum material with a dramatic distortion pattern

Created by an electronic tug-of-war between the material’s atomic layers, this ‘beautiful’ herringbone-like pattern could give rise to unique features that scientists are just starting to explore.

Researchers at the Department of Energy’s SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory and Stanford University have created a new type of quantum material whose atomic scaffolding, or lattice,  has been dramatically warped into a herringbone pattern.

The resulting distortions are “huge” compared to those achieved in other materials, said Woo Jin Kim, a postdoctoral researcher at the Stanford Institute for Materials and Energy Sciences (SIMES) at SLAC who led the study. 

“This is a very fundamental result, so it’s hard to make predictions about what may or may not come out of it, but the possibilities are exciting,” said SLAC/Stanford Professor and SIMES Director Harold Hwang. 

“Based on theoretical modeling from members of our team, it looks like the new material has intriguing magnetic, orbital and charge order properties that we plan to investigate further,” he said. Those are some of the very properties that scientists think give quantum materials their surprising characteristics. 

The research team described their work in a paper published in Nature today.

Read more on the SLAC website

Image: This illustration depicts a herringbone-like pattern in the atomic lattice of a quantum material created by researchers at SLAC and Stanford. An electronic tug-of-war between its layers has dramatically warped the lattice. Researchers are just staring to explore how this ‘huge’ distortion affects the material’s properties. 

Credit: Greg Stewart/SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory

A star is born

Swiss Light Source SLS reveals complex chemistry inside ‘stellar nurseries’

An international team of researchers has uncovered what might be a critical step in the chemical evolution of molecules in cosmic “stellar nurseries.” In these vast clouds of cold gas and dust in space, trillions of molecules swirl together over millions of years. The collapse of these interstellar clouds eventually gives rise to young stars and planets.

Like human bodies, stellar nurseries contain a lot of organic molecules, which are made up mostly of carbon and hydrogen atoms. The group’s results, published in the journal Nature Astronomy, reveal how certain large organic molecules may form inside these clouds. It’s one tiny step in the eons-long chemical journey that carbon atoms undergo—forming in the hearts of dying stars, then becoming part of planets, living organisms on Earth and perhaps beyond.

“In these cold molecular clouds, you’re creating the first building blocks that will, in the end, form stars and planets,” said Jordy Bouwman, research associate at the Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics (LASP) and assistant professor in the Department of Chemistry at University Colorado Boulder.

For the new study, Bouwman and his colleagues took a deep dive into one stellar nursery in particular: the Taurus Molecular Cloud (TMC-1). This region sits in the constellation Taurus and is roughly 440 light years (more than 2 quadrillion miles) from Earth. The chemically complex environment is an example of what astronomers call an “accreting starless core.” Its cloud has begun to collapse, but scientists haven’t yet detected embryonic stars emerging inside it.

Read more on the PSI website

Image: Using PEPICO spectroscopy at the SLS, researchers discovered how hexagonally-shaped ortho-benzyne molecules can combine with methyl radicals to form a series of larger organic molecules, each containing a ring of five carbon atoms.

Credit: Henry Cardwell

How a record-breaking copper catalyst converts CO2 into liquid fuels

Researchers at Berkeley Lab, collaborating with CHESS scientists at the PIPOXS beamline, have made the first real-time movies of copper nanoparticles as they evolve to convert carbon dioxide and water into renewable fuels and chemicals. Their new insights could help advance the next generation of solar fuels.

Since the 1970s, scientists have known that copper has a special ability to recycle carbon dioxide into valuable chemicals and fuels. But for many years, scientists have struggled to understand how this common metal works as an electrocatalyst, a mechanism that uses energy from electrons to chemically transform molecules into different products.

Now, a research team led by Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab) has gained new insight by capturing the world’s first real-time movies of copper nanoparticles (copper particles engineered at the scale of a billionth of a meter) as they convert CO2 and water into renewable fuels and chemicals: ethylene, ethanol, and propanol, among others. The work was reported in the journal Nature.

“This is very exciting. After decades of work, we’re finally able to show – with undeniable proof – how copper electrocatalysts excel in CO2 reduction,” said Peidong Yang, a senior faculty scientist in Berkeley Lab’s Materials Sciences and Chemical Sciences Divisions who led the study. Yang is also a professor of chemistry and materials science and engineering at UC Berkeley. “Knowing why copper is such an excellent electrocatalyst brings us steps closer to turning CO2 into new, renewable solar fuels through artificial photosynthesis.”

Read more on the CHESS website

Image: Artist’s rendering of a copper nanoparticle as it evolves during CO2 electrolysis: Copper nanoparticles (left) combine into larger metallic copper “nanograins” (right) within seconds of the electrochemical reaction, reducing CO2 into new multicarbon products.

Credit: Yao Yang/Berkeley Lab

Electrocatalysis – Iron and Cobalt Oxyhydroxides examined

A team led by Dr. Prashanth W. Menezes (HZB/TU-Berlin) has now gained insights into the chemistry of one of the most active anode catalysts for green hydrogen production. They examined a series of Cobalt-Iron Oxyhydroxides at BESSY II and were able to determine the oxidation states of the active elements in different configurations as well as to unveil the geometrical structure of the active sites. Their results might contribute to the knowledge based design of new highly efficient and low cost catalytical active materials.

Very soon, we need to become fossil free, not only in the energy sector, but as well in industry. Hydrocarbons or other raw chemicals can be produced in principle using renewable energy and abundant molecules such as water and carbon dioxide with the help of electrocatalytically active materials. But at the moment, those catalyst materials either consist of expensive and rare materials or lack efficiency.

Key reaction in water splitting

A team led by Dr. Prashanth W. Menezes (HZB/TU-Berlin) has now gained insights into the chemistry of one of the most active catalysts for the anodic oxygen evolution reaction (OER), which is a key reaction to supply electrons for the hydrogen evolution reaction (HER) in water splitting. The hydrogen can then be processed into further chemical compounds, e.g., hydrocarbons. Additionally, in the direct electrocatalytic carbon dioxide reduction to alcohols or hydrocarbons, the OER also plays a central role.

Read more on the HZB website

Image: LiFex-1Cox Borophosphates have been used as inexpensive anodes for the production of green hydrogen. Their dynamic restructuring during OER as well as their catalytically active structure, have been elucidated via  X-ray absorption spectroscopy.

Credit: © P. Menezes / HZB /TU Berlin

Battling biofilm to prevent dangerous lung infections

Researchers from the University of Toronto (U of T) and The Hospital for Sick Children have identified a promising therapeutic target to help treat lung infections in cystic fibrosis (CF) patients.

“Individuals with cystic fibrosis have an impairment in their lungs where they have a hard time clearing out the mucus that accumulates within the lungs,” says Andreea Gheorghita, PhD candidate in the Department of Biochemistry at U of T.

Pseudomonas aeruginosa is a bacterium that causes opportunistic infections in individuals with weakened immune systems or other health concerns. For individuals with CF, repeated Pseudomonas infections often lead to long hospital stays and severe lung damage.

“Because of the impaired ability to clear mucus in the airways, these lung infections can become very persistent and prolonged, which eventually leads to lung tissue damage, loss of lung function, and eventually can cause patient mortality,” says Gheorghita.

Using the CMCF beamline at the Canadian Light Source (CLS) at the University of Saskatchewan (USask), the team has been able to visualize the interaction between two important proteins that are key players in Pseudomonas’s ability to make biofilm. This sticky secretion allows the bacterium to attach to the lungs and makes it difficult for antibiotics and the patient’s immune system to fight the infection.

Read more on the  Canadian Light Source website