A timely solution for the photosynthetic oxygen evolving clock

XFEL Hub collaboration reveals the intermediates of the photosynthetic water oxidation clock

A large international collaborative effort aided by the XFEL Hub at Diamond Light Source has generated the most detailed time-resolved studies to date of a key protein involved in photosynthesis. The pioneering work, recently published in Nature, shows how photosystem II harnesses light energy to produce oxygen – insights that could direct a next generation of photovoltaic cells. 
>Read more on the Diamond Light Source website

Image: this figure is issued from a video you can watch here.

New insight into a puzzling magnetic phenomenon

ImagUsing an X-ray laser, researchers watched atoms rotate on the surface of a material that was demagnetized in millionths of a billionth of a second.

More than 100 years ago, Albert Einstein and Wander Johannes de Haas discovered that when they used a magnetic field to flip the magnetic state of an iron bar dangling from a thread, the bar began to rotate.

Now experiments at the Department of Energy’s SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory have seen for the first time what happens when magnetic materials are demagnetized at ultrafast speeds of millionths of a billionth of a second: The atoms on the surface of the material move, much like the iron bar did. The work, done at SLAC’s Linac Coherent Light Source (LCLS) X-ray laser, was published in Nature earlier this month.

>Read more on the LCLS at SLAC website

Image: Researchers from ETH Zurich in Switzerland used LCLS to show a link between ultrafast demagnetization and an effect that Einstein helped discover 100 years ago.
Credit: Dawn Harmer/SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory

In-situ single-shot diffractive fluence mapping for x-ray FEL pulses

Free-electron lasers (FEL) for the extreme-ultraviolet (XUV) and x-ray regime opened up the possibility to investigate and exploit non-linear processes in the interaction of x-rays with matter. Such processes are of considerable interest in numerous research fields, owing to the huge impact of non-linear techniques on optics and spectroscopy in the visible and near-visible spectral range. Generating and understanding non-linear effects requires sophisticated control of the sample illumination. This is especially challenging at FEL sources, where variations of the spatial fluence distribution on a single-shot basis are common. Moreover, the focused spot often exhibits a complex internal structure due to diffraction artefacts from the focusing optics. These factors cause considerable uncertainties with respect to the effective fluence on a solid sample for scattering experiments in the forward direction.
We demonstrate a flexible solution for true in-situfluence monitoring on solid samples in transmission-type diffraction experiments. Our concept measures the detailed beam footprint on the actual sample under study. The image of the illumination is recorded simultaneously with the specimen’s primary scattering signal on a two-dimensional detector. This is facilitated by a shallow grating structure of only a few nanometer depth that is lithographically fabricated into the sample carrier membrane. Such membranes are routinely used in transmission-type diffraction experiments as a transmissive structural support for thin-film or sparsely dispersed samples. The grating structure forms a diffractive optical element that maps the spatial fluence distribution on the sample to a configurable position on the detector.

>Read more on the Elettra Sincrotrone Trieste website

Image: Figure 1.  a) Single-shot diffraction image of a sample with grating-based fluence monitor and ferromagnetic domains on a logarithmic false-color scale. The ring-shaped structure is due to the magnetic domains, while the fluence monitor grating gives rise to the brighter patterns on the image diagonals. Both grating patterns are equivalent images of the beam footprint on the sample. b) Enlarged detail of the diffracted fluence map on the sample on a linear false-color scale. c) AFM image of a single-shot damage crater in the sample’s silicon substrate. The pattern observed matches the in-situ measured beam footprint very well, but belongs to a different FEL shot. Scale bars are 10µm. Adapted from M. Schneider et al., Nature Communications 9, 214 (2018)

First experiments reveal unknown structure of antibiotics killer

DESY-led international collaboration obtains first scientific results from European XFEL

An international collaboration led by DESY and consisting of over 120 researchers has announced the results of the first scientific experiments at Europe’s new X-ray laser European XFEL. The pioneering work not only demonstrates that the new research facility can speed up experiments by more than an order of magnitude, it also reveals a previously unknown structure of an enzyme responsible for antibiotics resistance. “The groundbreaking work of the first team to use the European XFEL has paved the way for all users of the facility who greatly benefit from these pioneering experiments,” emphasises European XFEL managing director Robert Feidenhans’l. “We are very pleased – these results show that the facility works even better than we had expected and is ready to deliver new scientific breakthroughs.” The scientists present their results, including the first new protein structure solved at the European XFEL, in the journal Nature Communications.

“Being at a totally new class of facility we had to master many challenges that nobody had tackled before,” says DESY scientist Anton Barty from the Center for Free-Electron Laser Science (CFEL), who led the team of about 125 researchers involved in the first experiments that were open to the whole scientific community. “I compare it to the maiden flight of a novel aircraft: All calculations and assembly completed, everything says it will work, but not until you try it do you know whether it actually flies.”

The 3.4 kilometres long European XFEL is designed to deliver X-ray flashes every 0.000 000 220 seconds (220 nanoseconds). To unravel the three-dimensional structure of a biomolecule, such as an enzyme, the pulses are used to obtain flash X-ray exposures of tiny crystals grown from that biomolecule. Each exposure gives rise to a characteristic diffraction pattern on the detector. If enough such patterns are recorded from all sides of a crystal, the spatial structure of the biomolecule can be calculated. The structure of a biomolecule can reveal much about how it works.

>Read more on the DESY website and on the European XFEL website

Image: Artist’s impression of the experiment: When the ultra-bright X-ray flashes (violet) hit the enzyme crystals in the water jet (blue), the recorded diffraction data allow to reconstruct the spatial structure of the enzyme (right).
Credit: DESY/Lucid Berlin

First serial crystallography experiments performed at BioMAX

BioMAX has successfully performed the first serial crystallography experiments at the beamline. This new method is performed at room temperature which allows structural biologists to study their molecules at more biologically relevant conditions. The technique can also be used on smaller crystals which will alleviate some of the restrictions for molecules such as membrane proteins, that do not typically form large crystals. Eventually, it is hoped that this technique will allow users at the BioMAX and MicroMAX beamlines to take snapshots of the dynamic states of proteins in rapid succession giving a dynamic view of protein movement and activity.

The serial crystallography technique promises to be very useful to users of both synchrotrons and XFELs. Over the course of one experiment, users were able to measure between 20 and 50 crystals every second, resulting in 20 TB of data from just 3 proteins. BioMAX hopes to quickly master this complex technique in order to offer it to users as soon as possible. It also gives us a glimpse of what will be possible at the newly funded MicroMAX beamline.

>Read more on the MAX IV Laboratory website

Image: BioMAX serial crystallography setup using a High Viscosity Extrusion (HVE) injector specially designed for the BioMAX endstation by Bruce Doak of the Max Planck Institute for Medical Research, Heidelberg, and fabricated at that institute.

Movie directors with extra roles

Data storage devices based on novel materials are expected to make it possible to record information in a smaller space, at higher speed, and with greater energy efficiency than ever before.

Movies shot with the X-ray laser show what happens inside potential new storage media, as well as how the processes by which the material switches between two states can be optimised.
Henrik Lemke comes to work on his bicycle. Private cars are not allowed to drive to the SwissFEL building in the Würenlingen forest, and delivery vans and lorries need a permit. As a beamline scientist, the physicist is responsible for the experiment station named for Switzerland’s Bernina Pass. At the end of 2017, he led the first experiment at the Swiss free-electron X-ray laser, acting in effect as a movie director while SwissFEL was used, like a high-speed camera, to record how a material was selectively converted from a semiconducting to a conducting state – and back again. To this end the PSI team, together with a research group from the University of Rennes in France, studied a powder of nanocrystals made of titanium pentoxide. The sample was illuminated with infrared laser pulses that made the substance change its properties. Then X-ray pulses revealed how the crystal structure was deformed and enlarged – a cascade of dynamic processes that evidently depend on the size of the crystals.

Image: The directors: Henrik Lemke and Gerhard Ingold
Credit: Scanderbeg Sauer Photography

Biological light sensor filmed in action

Film shows one of the fastest processes in biology

Using X-ray laser technology, a team led by researchers of the Paul Scherrer Institute PSI has recorded one of the fastest processes in biology. In doing so, they produced a molecular movie that reveals how the light sensor retinal is activated in a protein molecule. Such reactions occur in numerous organisms that use the information or energy content of light – they enable certain bacteria to produce energy through photosynthesis, initiate the process of vision in humans and animals, and regulate adaptations to the circadian rhythm. The movie shows for the first time how a protein efficiently controls the reaction of the embedded light sensor. The images, now published in the journal Science, were captured at the free-electron X-ray laser LCLS at Stanford University in California. Further investigations are planned at SwissFEL, the new free-electron X-ray laser at PSI. Besides the scientists from Switzerland, researchers from Japan, the USA, Germany, Israel, and Sweden took part in this study.

>Read more on the SwissFEL at Paul Scherrer Institute website

Image: Jörg Standfuss at the injector with which protein crystals for the experiments at the Californian X-ray laser LCLS were tested. In the near future, this technology will also be available at PSI’s X-ray laser SwissFEL, for scientists from all over the world.
Credit: Paul Scherrer Institute/Mahir DzaAmbegovic

Serial crystallography develops by leaps and bounds at the ESRF

Serial crystallography is a new way of studying macromolecular structures using synchrotron and X-FEL sources around the world.

The Structural Biology group at the ESRF is continuously developing new methods to advance the field. Two articles describing advances made are published today in Acta Crystallographica Section D.

“On the Structural Biology Group beamlines one of the ultimate aims is that users can define protocols for experiments, click ‘go’ and let the experiments run by themselves”, explains Gordon Leonard, head of the Structural Biology group at the ESRF. With this idea in mind and to get as much information as possible from the samples available, the team has already adopted serial crystallography, a technique which involves taking diffraction data from many, sometimes hundreds or thousands, of crystals in order to assemble a complete dataset, piece by piece. Indeed, the members of the group are constantly developing new ways to improve the method through collaboration involving scientists from the ESRF, DESY, the Hamburg Centre for Ultrafast Imaging, the European X-FEL and the University of Hamburg.

>Read more on the European Synchrotron website

Image: Daniele de Sanctis on the ID29 beamline.
Credit: S. Candé.

Scientists create “Swiss army knife” for electron beams

Pocket accelerator combines four functions in one device 

DESY scientists have created a miniature particle accelerator for electrons that can perform four different functions at the push of a button. The experimental device is driven by a Terahertz radiation source and can accelerate, compress, focus and analyse electron bunches in a beam. Its active structures measure just a few millimetres across. The developers from the Center for Free-Electron Laser Science (CFEL) present their “Segmented Terahertz Electron Accelerator and Manipulator” (STEAM) in the journal Nature Photonics. Terahertz radiation is located between microwaves and the infrared in the electromagnetic spectrum.

One of the central features of the device is its perfect timing with the electron beam. The scientists achieve this by using the same laser pulse to generate an electron bunch and to drive the device. “To do this, we take an infrared laser pulse and split it up,” explains first author Dongfang Zhang from the group of Franz Kärtner at CFEL. “Both parts are fed into nonlinear crystals that change the laser wavelength: For the generation of an electron bunch the wavelength is shifted into the ultraviolet and directed onto a photocathode where it releases a bunch of electrons. For STEAM the wavelength is shifted into the Terahertz regime. The relative timing of the two parts of the original laser pulse only depends on the length of the path they take and can be controlled very precisely.”

This way, the scientists can control with ultra-high precision, what part of the Terahertz wave an electron bunch hits when it enters the device. Depending on the arrival time of the electron bunch, STEAM performs its different functions. “For instance, a bunch that hits the negative part of the Terahertz electric field is accelerated,” explains Zhang. “Other parts of the wave lead to focusing or defocusing of the bunch or to a compression by a factor of ten or so.” While compression means the electron bunch gets shorter in the direction of flight, focusing means it shrinks perpendicular to the direction of flight.

>Read more on the PETRA III at DESY website

Image: The mini accelerator STEAM (centre) is driven by Terahertz radiation (yellow, coming from both sides). It can accelerator, compress, focus and analyse the incident electron bunches (blue).
Credit: DESY, Lucid Berlin

LEAPS and FELs of Europe meetings at Elettra

On March 12-13 Elettra-Sincrotrone Trieste hosted the 2nd meeting of General Assembly (GA) of the League of European Accelerator-based Photon Sources (LEAPS), a strategic consortium that includes 16 Synchrotron Radiation and Free Electron Laser (FEL) user facilities in Europe based in 10 different European countries .
This followed the LEAPS Launch Event in Brussels on November 13, 2017. The main topics of the GA meeting were the LEAPS Governance Structure and the LEAPS Strategy Paper to be forwarded to the EU Commission during the Bulgarian Presidency Conference on Research Infrastructures in Sofia, 22-23 March.

>Read more on the Elettra and FERMI website

Image: LEAPS General Assembly and Coordination Board group picture.
Credit: Fotorolli

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.

Extreme-ultraviolet vortices from a free-electron laser

Extreme-ultraviolet vortices may be exploited to steer the magnetic properties of nanoparticles, increase the resolution in microscopy, and gain insight into local symmetry and chirality of a material; they might even be used to increase the bandwidth in long-distance space communications. However, in contrast to the generation of vortex beams in the infrared and visible spectral regions, production of intense, extreme-ultraviolet (XUV) and x-ray optical vortices still remains a challenge. Here, we present an in-situ and an ex-situ technique for generating intense, femtosecond, coherent optical vortices with tunable topological charge at a free-electron laser (FEL) in the XUV.

The first method takes advantage of nonlinear harmonic generation in a helical undulator and exploits the fact that such harmonics carry a topological charge of l = n-1, where n is the harmonic number. The experiment was performed at the FERMI FEL. An ultraviolet (250-nm) seed laser was used to energy modulate the electron beam (e-beam) in the first undulator (modulator), as shown in the top panel of Figure 1. The e-beam was then sent through a dispersive section (a four-dipole-magnet chicane), where the energy modulation was transformed into a current-density modulation (bunching) with Fourier components spanning many harmonics of the seed laser frequency. Such a bunched e-beam entered the helical radiator tuned to a fundamental wavelength of 31.2 nm (i.e., the 8th harmonic of the seed), producing coherent light in the XUV. The FEL was operated in the high-gain regime, close to the saturation point. Under these conditions, the interaction between the radiation at the fundamental FEL wavelength and the e-beam induced bunching at the second harmonic (15.6 nm), resulting in emission of coherent XUV vortices carrying unit topological charge (l = 1) at intensities on the order of 10−3 of the fundamental FEL emission; see bottom panel in Figure 1.

>Read more on the FERMI website

Top: The scheme to generate optical vortices at harmonics (in the present case at the 2nd harmonic) of the fundamental FEL wavelength. The optical vortex is separated from the fundamental FEL emission using a Zr filter.
Bottom: Intensity profile of the generated optical vortex with a topological charge of l =1 (left), and interference with a Gaussian beam revealing the twisted nature of the vortex (right).


Record number of participants at User Meeting

Celebrating a year of glorious firsts and outlining future developments

“Welcome to the first European XFEL user meeting with actual users!” said Martin Meedom Nielsen, head of the European XFEL council as he opened the three day event on 24 January in front of a packed lecture hall on the DESY campus in Hamburg. With 1200 registered participants from ca. 100 institutions from 30 countries, this year’s joint European XFEL and DESY photon science users’ meeting, the first since operation began, was the biggest yet.

Meedom Nielsen and European XFEL Managing Director Robert Feidenhans’l started the meeting by summarizing the achievements and developments of the last year and thanking everyone who had contributed to the facility’s success. “It has been a fantastic year,” said Feidenhans’l looking back on his first year as director of the facility, “a tough year and we have worked really hard, but a fantastic year.” “2017 was a year of glorious firsts” said Meedom Nielsen, highlighting especially the facility’s inauguration in September and the beams of laser light that shone across the city to mark the occasion. “Hamburg was shining for European XFEL, and European XFEL was shining back” he said.

>Read more on the European XFEL website

 Photo Credit: European XFEL


Superconducting X-Ray laser takes shape in Silicon Valley

The first cryomodule has arrived at SLAC

Linked together and chilled to nearly absolute zero, 37 of these segments will accelerate electrons to almost the speed of light and power an upgrade to the nation’s only X-ray free-electron laser facility.

An area known for high-tech gadgets and innovation will soon be home to an advanced superconducting X-ray laser that stretches 3 miles in length, built by a collaboration of national laboratories. On January 19, the first section of the machine’s new accelerator arrived by truck at SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory in Menlo Park after a cross-country journey that began in Batavia, Illinois, at Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory.

These 40-foot-long sections, called cryomodules, are building blocks for a major upgrade called LCLS-II that will amplify the performance of the lab’s X-ray free-electron laser, the Linac Coherent Light Source (LCLS).


>Read more on the Linac Coherent Light Source website

Photo credit: Fermilab / Jefferson Lab



First Pilot Experiment at SwissFEL-Alvra

UV photo-induced charge transfer in OLED system

On the 17th of December 2017 SwissFEL saw its first pilot experiment in the Alvra experimental station of the SwissFEL ARAMIS beamline. A team of scientists from the University of Bremen, Krakow and PSI, led by Matthias Vogt (Univ. Bremen) and Chris Milne (PSI)in collaboration with J. Szlachetko, J. Czapla-Masztafiak, W. M. Kwiatek (Inst. of Nucl.Phys. PAN (Krakow), successfully did the first pilot experiment at SwissFEL-Alvra on UV photo-induced charge transfer in OLED system.

With ever-increasing demands on low-cost, low-power display technology, significant resources have been invested in identifying OLED materials that are based on Earth-abundant materials while maintaining high internal quantum efficiencies. The recent pilot experiment performed at SwissFEL’s Alvra experimental station aimed to use X-ray spectroscopy to investigate a promising OLED candidate based on copper and phosphorus. This molecule, synthesized by Dr. Matthias Vogt from the University of Bremen, is based on a physical phenomenon called thermally activated delayed fluorescence, which allows for extremely high energy efficiencies to be achieved. The experiment probed how the phosphorus atoms are involved in the fluorescence process as a complement to longer-timescale measurements on the copper atoms performed at the Swiss Light Source’s SuperXAS beamline by Dr. Grigory Smolentsev and collaborators. The SwissFEL measurements confirm that the phosphorus atoms are directly involved in the charge transfer process in the molecule, and lay the foundation for future investigations of the mechanisms behind the efficiency of the delayed fluorescence process.

>Read more on the SwissFEL website

Figure: please find here the full figure

Behind the scenes at European XFEL

Users and staff give their impressions of the first experiments

In mid-September, fourteen metres under the European XFEL building in north Germany, users started their experiments at the first two instruments to go online: the FXE Femtosecond X-Ray Experiments (FXE) instrument, and the Single Particles, Clusters, and Biomolecules and Serial Femtosecond Crystallography (SPB/SFX) instrument. But what was it like to be among the first users to ever do experiments at the facility, and how did the European XFEL staff members who supported them during their stay experience it all? We asked some for our users and staff for their impressions.