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

Image:
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.

LEAPS initiative launched by European light source facilities

European XFEL founding member of the League of European Accelerator based Photon Sources (LEAPS)

European XFEL joined other European light source facilities and organisations today in Brussels to launch a new collaborative initiative to drive a more efficient, effective and collaborative use of light source technologies. The League of European Accelerator based Photon Sources (LEAPS) brings together 16 research organisations from across Europe, including European XFEL.  The light sources aresuper-microscopes’ that produce exceptionally intense beams of X-rays, ultra-violet and infrared light enabling the exploration of samples in the tiniest of details. LEAPS consists mainly of synchrotron light sources such as DESY’s PETRA III, and free-electron lasers such as the European XFEL.

While European light sources have been working alongside each other for years, the LEAPS members strive for closer collaboration and cooperation. They share a common vision to drive forward the development of common technologies, to strengthen economies and create employment, and to support industries to make better use of available instruments and techniques. Together, they aim to inspire emerging technologies and innovations, and to foster a stronger skills base across Europe.

European XFEL at Hamburg Night of Science 2017

Record number of visitors to the DESY campus

On Saturday, 4 November over 20,000 visitors came to the DESY campus in the west of the city on the occasion of the Hamburg Night of Science and the DESY open day “DESY DAY” to learn more about the research and work done on site. Alongside DESY, European XFEL and other campus partners put on a wide range of activities for the visitors including inspiring lectures, hands-on experiments, educational games and demonstrations. On site at the European XFEL injector and shaft buildings, European XFEL staff presented their facility and research opportunities.

Read more on the European XFEL website

Image: Sparks fly at the Hamburg Night of Science

 

Scientists demonstrate unparalleled phase control of free-electron laser pulses

Double flashes with attosecond precision

Thanks to a smart mirror scientists can control the phase of X-rays from DESY’s free-electron laser FLASH with attosecond precision. The feat enables new investigations of the interactions of light and matter, as the team headed by DESY scientist Tim Laarmann reports in the journal Nature Communications. An attosecond is a billionth of a billionth of a second. The phase indicates at which point in its rapid oscillation a light wave is at a given point in time or space. Phase-sensitive measurements are important to gain insight of light-matter interactions and require phase-controlled pulses. Although phase control is an established technique in optics, the soft X-rays generated by FLASH oscillate a hundred times faster than visible light, requiring a hundred times better precision.

The scientists have now demonstrated phase control and interferometric autocorrelation at FLASH using pulse pairs created with a smart split-and-delay unit. The successful transfer of a powerful optical method towards short wavelengths paves the way towards utilization of advanced nonlinear methodologies even at partially coherent free-electron lasers that rely on self-amplified spontaneous emission (SASE). Free-electron lasers (FEL) are driven by powerful particle accelerators and produce laser-like light pulses by sending bunches of fast electrons through a magnetic slalom course.

>Read More

Time-resolved measurement of interatomic Coulombic decay

… induced by two-photon double excitation of Ne2

On the 24th of March 2017, Tsukasa Takanashi gained his doctorate from the University of Tohoku (Japan), together with the President’s Award prize (総長賞). The prize is awarded each year to the best PhD students in recognition of their outstanding academic curriculum, and particularly for the excellent results obtained during their studies. Tsukasa carried out his studies under the supervision of Professor Kiyoshi Ueda, a leading figure on the international scene of atomic and molecular physics, and until recently, a member of the FERMI Review Panel. In his thesis, Tsukasa used the light from Free Electron Lasers (FELs) to study the dynamics of highly excited molecular systems; in his home country, he utilized the Japanese FEL SACLA, and he studied the Coulomb explosion of the molecule CH2I2 (diiodomethane). This process is the fragmentation by multiple ionization of a sample, and the successive repulsion of the ions by the positive charge which is generated.

An important part of his work was carried out at FERMI, currently the only FEL source in the world able to provide Tsukasa the wavelength (75.6 nm) and temporal resolution (10-13 s) necessary to study the dynamics of his system: the Ne2 molecule, which consists of two neon atoms bound by their weak van der Waals interaction. The apparent simplicity of this system allows the detailed study of complex phenomena, such as the exchange of energy after electronic excitation, which is basic to all photochemical processes.

>Read more on the FERMI website

Image: Schematic representation of the resonant absorption of two FEL photons by a neon dimer (upper panel) and the ICD relaxation process by ionization (lower panel).