Analysing Alzheimer’s mechanisms with synchrotron light

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

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

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

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

>Read more on the ALBA website

A comparison of the etch mechanisms of germanium and silicon

Time multiplexed, deep reactive ion etching (DRIE) is a standard silicon microfabrication technique for fabricating MEMS sensors, actuators, and more recently in CMOS development for 2.5D and 3D memory devices.

At CHESS, we have adopted this microfabrication technique to develop novel x-ray optics called,Collimating Channel Arrays  (CCAs) [1], for confocal x-ray fluorescence microscopy (CXRF). Because the first CCA optics were fabricated from silicon substrates, the range of x-ray fluorescence energies for which they could be used, and hence the elements they could be used to study, was limited. Unwanted x-rays above about 11 keV could penetrate through the silicon, showing up as background and interfering with the measurement.

To solve the background problem, germanium substrates were used to fabricate the CCA optics. Germanium, which is much denser and therefore x-ray opaque than silicon, is also etch compatible with the fluorine etch chemistry for silicon DRIE. However, small differences in etch behavior between germanium and silicon can cause big differences in the outcome. Here, Genova et al JVST B [2] report a systematic comparison of  the etch mechanisms of silicon and germanium, performed with the Plasma Therm Versaline deep silicon etcher at the Cornell NanoScale Science & Technology Facility (CNF). The etch rates of silicon and germanium were compared by varying critical parameters in the DRIE process, especially the applied power and voltage used for each of 3 steps in the etch process,  on custom-designed wafers with a variety of features with systematically varying dimensions.

>Read more on the CHESS website

Image: (extract, full image here) SEM of high aspect ratio (>13:1) etched features in Si at 3.7 μm/min (a) and Ge at 3.4 μm/min (b)

LEAPS initiative is making progress

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

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

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

>Learn more about the LEAPS initiative

European XFEL starts operation of second X-ray light source

Another important milestone achieved in the development of the facility

The second X-ray light source has successfully been taken into operation at European XFEL, the world’s largest X-ray laser located in the Hamburg metropolitan region. The X-ray light source SASE3 successfully produced X-ray laser light flashes in one of the underground tunnels. SASE3 will serve two experiment stations scheduled to begin user operation at the end of the year. Since the start of operation in September 2017, 340 scientists from across the globe have already used the facility for their research. The successful start of operation of the new SASE 3 source will enable the facility to increase the number of users further.

European XFEL Managing Director Prof. Robert Feidenhans’ said: “The construction and commissioning of the new light source are complex processes, for which we and our DESY colleagues have been preparing intensely for these last weeks and months. We are very happy that the commissioning of this second light source SASE 3 has also run so smoothly, and that both sources, SASE1 and SASE3, produce light simultaneously. For this I would like to thank all those involved, in particular the accelerator team from DESY. We continue to be on schedule to start operation at all four experiment stations currently under construction, beginning with the first two instruments in November. The remaining two will start operation at the beginning of 2019. This will increase our current capacity threefold by mid 2019.”

>Read more on the European XFEL website

Image of the first X-ray laser beam in the tunnel from the European XFEL’s SASE3 undulator. SASE3 generates X-rays with a wavelength similar to the width of an atom. Those X-rays will be used to study subjects such as the formation and breaking of chemical bonds and the emergence of special properties such as semiconductivity in materials.

The microstructure of a parrotfish tooth contributes to its toughness

During a 2012 visit to the Great Barrier Reef off the coast of Australia, ALS staff scientist Matthew Marcus became intrigued with parrotfish. “I was reminded that this is a fish that crunches up coral all day and is responsible for much of the white sand on beaches,” Marcus said. “But how can this fish eat coral and not lose its teeth?” So Marcus teamed up with Pupa Gilbert, a biophysicist at the University of Wisconsin–Madison, and an international team of researchers she assembled, to understand how parrotfish teeth work.

Because conventional microscopes can overlook the unique orientation of crystals in tooth enamel, the team used the technique called polarization-dependent imaging contrast (PIC) mapping that Gilbert invented, which uses the photoemission electron microscopy (PEEM) Beamline 11.0.1 at the ALS. The PIC maps allowed them to visualize the orientation of individual crystals of fluorapatite, the main mineral component of parrotfish teeth.

Separate experiments used tomography (Beamline 8.3.2) and microdiffraction (Beamline 12.3.2) to further analyze the crystal orientations and strains in the teeth.

>Read more on the ALS website

Image: (extract) PIC maps acquired at the tips of four different parrotfish teeth show that they consist of 100-nm-wide, microns-long crystals, bundled into “fibers” interwoven like warp and weft fibers in fabric. These fibers gradually decrease in average diameter from 5 μm at the back of a tooth to 2 μm at the tip. Intriguingly, this decrease in size is spatially correlated with an increase in hardness and stiffness. The orientation angle of the crystals is color-coded (chart at bottom).


Research on the teeth of a prehistoric fetus

It gives us information about the last months of a mother and child, who lived 27.000 years BP.

Fossil records enable a detailed reconstruction of our planet’s history and of the evolution of our species. Dental enamel is a sort of biological archive that constantly tracks periods of good and bad health, while forming. Prenatal enamel, which grows during intrauterine life, reports the mother’s history as well.

We have studied fossil records found in the “Ostuni 1” burial site, discovered in Santa Maria di Agnano in Puglia in 1991 by Donato Coppola (Università di Bari, Italy) and dated back over 27,000 years. More specifically, we were interested in the teeth of a fetus found in the pelvic area of the skeleton of a young girl. By analysing the still forming teeth of the baby, it has been possible to obtain information about the health condition of the mother during the last months of pregnancy, to establish the gestational age of the fetus, and also to identify some specificities of the embryonal development. For the first time, it has been possible to reconstruct life and death of an ancient fetus and, at the same time, to shed light on its mother’s health.

Three still-forming incisors, belonging to the fetus, have been visualized and analyzed by means of X-ray microtomography at Elettra. The preliminary analysis on a portion of the fetal mandible, realized at the TomoLab laboratory allowed us to study the still-forming incisor contained within it (see Fig. 1). Thanks to the unique properties of synchrotron radiation and using a specifically-developed methodology, a high resolution 3D analysis has been carried out on the teeth at the SYRMEP beamline. This approach, allowed us to carry out a virtual histological analysis of the precious fossil teeth, revealing the finest structures of the dental enamel in a non-destructive way.

>Read more on the Elettra website

Image:  Pseudo color rendering of the virtual histological section of the Ostuni1b’s upper left deciduous central incisor. The corresponding CT scan has been acquired at the SYRMEP beamline in phase-contras mode.

A first look at how miniscule bubbles affect the texture of noodles

The texture of a noodle is a remarkably complicated thing. When you bite into a spoonful of ramen noodles, you expect a bit of springiness (or a resistance to your bite) on the outside and a pleasantly soft give on the interior. These variations are so tiny as to be often overlooked, but they matter to noodle quality.

There are many factors in play in making a good noodle. For a wheat noodle, the structure of the gluten affects the overall quality. How a noodle dough is stretched, folded, and rolled out matters. And in between all of this, there are miniscule air bubbles that are part of the mix and influence texture.

Until recently, no one had ever looked at the bubbles in noodle dough.

“There was absolutely nothing in the literature indicating that the bubbles were there or that they were important at all. We did have some indirect evidence for bubbles from our ultrasonic experiments, but CLS (Canadian Light Source) microtomography was in some ways a hail Mary experiment: OK, let’s just sheet some dough and see what we find,” said Martin Scanlon, U of M professor in the Faculty of Agriculture and Food Sciences, and the project’s lead researcher.

>Read more on the Canadian Light Source website


Apply for the Kai Siegbahn prize 2018

The Prize was established in 2009 in honour of Kai Siegbahn, founder of Nuclear Instruments and Methods A (NIMA), who had a strong and lasting commitment to advancing synchrotron radiation science.

The Editorial Board of NIMA is currently accepting nominations for the 2018 award, and we are counting on you to help us identify potential honorees! We invite you to review the award criteria, and to nominate a worthy colleague.

All nominations should be submitted to the Committee Chair by March 31 2018:

Prof. Fulvio Parmigiani, Kai Siegbahn Chair
Department of Physics, University of Trieste
International Faculty, University of Cologne,
Elettra Sincrotrone Trieste S.C.p.A.

Nomination criteria:

The Prize aims to recognize and encourage outstanding experimental achievements in synchrotron radiation research with a significant component of instrument development. Particular preference will be given to the development of synchrotron radiation spectroscopies.

Rules and eligibility:

Nominations are open to scientists of all nationalities without regard to the geographical site at which the work was performed. Usually, the prize shall be awarded to one person but it may be shared if all recipients have contributed to the same accomplishment. The prize recipient should be 45 years old or younger at the time of selection.

Nominations are accepted from the NIMA advisory board, the NIMA board of editors, synchrotron radiation facility directors as well as from scientists engaged in synchrotron radiation science. Nomination packages should include a nominating letter, at least one supporting letter, a list of five papers on which the award is based as well as a proposed citation for the award.

Atomic Flaws Create Surprising, High-Efficiency UV LED Materials

Subtle surface defects increase UV light emission in greener, more cost-effective LED and catalyst materials

Light-emitting diodes (LEDs) traditionally demand atomic perfection to optimize efficiency. On the nanoscale, where structures span just billionths of a meter, defects should be avoided at all costs—until now.

A team of scientists from the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Brookhaven National Laboratory and Stony Brook University has discovered that subtle imperfections can dramatically increase the efficiency and ultraviolet (UV) light output of certain LED materials.

“The results are surprising and completely counterintuitive,” said Brookhaven Lab scientist Mingzhao Liu, the senior author on the study. “These almost imperceptible flaws, which turned out to be missing oxygen in the surface of zinc oxide nanowires, actually enhance performance. This revelation may inspire new nanomaterial designs far beyond LEDs that would otherwise have been reflexively dismissed.”

>Read more on the NSLS-II website

Image: The research team, front to back and left to right: Danhua Yan, Mingzhao Liu, Klaus Attenkoffer, Jiajie Cen, Dario Stacciola, Wenrui Zhang, Jerzy Sadowski, Eli Stavitski.


Liquid crystal molecules form nano rings

Quantised self-assembly enables design of materials with novel properties

At DESY’s X-ray source PETRA III, scientists have investigated an intriguing form of self-assembly in liquid crystals: When the liquid crystals are filled into cylindrical nanopores and heated, their molecules form ordered rings as they cool – a condition that otherwise does not naturally occur in the material. This behavior allows nanomaterials with new optical and electrical properties, as the team led by Patrick Huber from Hamburg University of Technology (TUHH) reports in the journal Physical Review Letters.

The scientists had studied a special form of liquid crystals that are composed of disc-shaped molecules called discotic liquid crystals. In these materials, the disk molecules can form high, electrically conductive pillars by themselves, stacking up like coins. The researchers filled discotic liquid crystals in nanopores in a silicate glass. The cylindrical pores had a diameter of only 17 nanometers (millionths of a millimeter) and a depth of 0.36 millimeters.

There, the liquid crystals were heated to around 100 degrees Celsius and then cooled slowly. The initially disorganised disk molecules formed concentric rings arranged like round curved columns. Starting from the edge of the pore, one ring after the other gradually formed with decreasing temperature until at about 70 degrees Celsius the entire cross section of the pore was filled with concentric rings. Upon reheating, the rings gradually disappeared again.

>Read more on the PETRA III at Desy website

Image: Stepwise self-organisation of the cooling liquid crystals. (Extract, see the entire image here)
Credit: A. Zantop/M. Mazza/K. Sentker/P. Huber, Max-Planck Institut für Dynamik und Selbstorganisation/Technische Universität Hamburg; Quantized Self-Assembly of Discotic Rings in a Liquid Crystal Confined in Nanopores, Physical Review Letters, 2018; CC BY 4.


40-year controversy in solid-state physics resolved

An international team at BESSY II headed by Prof. Oliver Rader has shown that the puzzling properties of samarium hexaboride do not stem from the material being a topological insulator, as it had been proposed to be.

Theoretical and initial experimental work had previously indicated that this material, which becomes a Kondo insulator at very low temperatures, also possessed the properties of a topological insulator. The team has now published a compelling alternative explanation in Nature Communications, however.

Samarium hexaboride is a dark solid with metallic properties at room temperature. It hosts Samarium, an element having several electrons confined to localized f orbitals in which they interact strongly with one another. The lower the temperature, the more apparent these interactions become. SmB6 becomes what is known as a Kondo insulator, named after Jun Kondo who was first able to explain this quantum effect.

In spite of Kondo-Effect: some conductivity remains

About forty years ago, physicists observed that SmB6 still retained remnant conductivity at temperatures below 4 kelvin, the cause of which had remained unclear until today. After the discovery of the topological-insulator class of materials around 12 years ago, hypotheses grew insistent that SmB6 could be a topological insulator as well as being Kondo insulator, which might explain the conductivity anomaly at a very fundamental level, since this causes particular conductive states at the surface. Initial experiments actually pointed toward this.

>Read more on the Bessy II website

Image: Electrons with differing energies are emitted along various crystal axes in the interior of the sample as well as from the surface. These can be measured with the angular-resolved photoemission station (ARPES) at BESSY II. Left image shows the sample temperature at 25 K, right at only 1 K. The energy distribution of the conducting and valence band electrons can be derived from these data. The surface remains conductive at very low temperature (1 K).
Credit: Helmholtz Zentrum Berlin