Diamond shines its light on Moon Rocks from Apollo Missions, Martian meteorites & Vesta

An international collaboration involving scientists in Tenerife, the US and the UK, have used Diamond Light Source, the UK’s national synchrotron to investigate the effect of gravity on rocky planets. They examined three billion+ year old rocks from the Moon collected during the Apollo missions, as well as meteorites from Mars, Vesta, and other environments collected in Antarctica.
The team – led by Dr Matt Pankhurst, Instituto Volcanológico de Canarias/(the Canarian Volcanlogical Institute (INVOLCAN) with co-investigators Dr Ryan Zeigler, NASA; Dr Rhian Jones, University of Manchester; Dr Beverley Coldwell, ITER; Dr Hongchang Wang, Diamond Light Source; Dr Robert Atwood, Diamond Light Source and Dr Nghia Vo, Diamond Light Source – aims to use the samples to make comparisons between processes and timescales that form similar rocks that are collected from different gravitational conditions.

>Read more on the Diamond Light Source website

3D Moon Rock

Alternative material investigated for superconducting radio-frequency cavity resonators

In modern synchrotron sources and free-electron lasers, superconducting radio-frequency cavity resonators are able to supply electron bunches with extremely high energy. These resonators are currently constructed of pure niobium. Now an international collaboration has investigated the potential advantages a niobium-tin coating might offer in comparison to pure niobium.
At present, niobium is the material of choice for constructing superconducting radio-frequency cavity resonators. These will be used in projects at the HZBsuch as bERLinPro and BESSY-VSR, but also for free-electron lasers such as the XFEL and LCLS-II. However, a coating of niobium-tin (Nb3Sn) could lead to considerable improvements.

Coatings may save money and energy

Superconducting radio-frequency cavity resonators made of niobium must be operated at 2 Kelvin (-271 degrees Celsius), which requires expensive and complicated cryogenic engineering. In contrast, a coating of Nb3Sn might make it possible to operate resonators at 4 Kelvin instead of 2 Kelvin and possibly withstand higher electromagnetic fields without the superconductivity collapsing. In the future, this could save millions of euros in construction and electricity costs for large accelerators, as the cost of cooling would be substantially lower.

> Read more on the HZB website

Image: The photomontage shows a sample of solid, pure niobium before coating (left), and coated with a thin layer of Nb3Sn (right). Copyright: HZB

In-Situ Observations of Performance Evolution in Shape Memory Alloys

Shape memory alloys see use in numerous aerospace and biomedical applications, but their wider use is limited by functional fatigue. Understanding the micromechanical origins of functional fatigue will advance the development of new microstructures that mitigate these effects and lead to wider adoption in industry.
Researchers led by Professor Aaron Stebner’s group at the Colorado School of Mines were able to elucidate important functional fatigue behaviors in a shape memory alloy (SMA) by combining multiple high-energy diffraction techniques available at the F2 station at CHESS.

>Read more on the CHESS website

Image: Development of increased lattice orientation heterogeneity in the SMA microstructure after the application of a thermal cycle

Preventing colorectal cancer and stillbirths

Characterizing a tiny protein—determining its shape and what it does—was the first step taken by Dr. Kirsten Wolthers and her colleagues in their effort to learn more about a very common molecule that is implicated in a wide range of human ailments.
Wolthers used the Canadian Light Source (CLS) at the University of Saskatchewan to study flavodoxin. This protein is produced by all sorts of bacteria and some algae, she explained, including the bacteria associated with influenza, H. pylori, E. coli and even appendicitis.
Of particular interest to the associate professor from the University of British Columbia is the flavodoxin produced by Fusobacterium nucleatum, an oral bacteria found naturally in the human mouth that plays a role in periodontal disease and gingivitis.
“What makes it so interesting is that what’s been emerging in the last 10 years or so are links between F. nucleatum and colorectal cancer and pre-term or stillbirths,” she said. In some studies, mice given oral F. nucleatum have shown a higher-than-normal incidence of pre-term births. Because flavodoxin is known to be essential for the lifecycle of the bacteria, it is seen as a potential target for a controlling growth of the bacterium.

> Read more on the Canadian Light Source website

Image: Dr Kirsten Wolthers working in a laboratory.

Experimental mini-accelerator achieves record energy

Coupled terahertz device significantly improves electron beam quality

Scientists at DESY have achieved a new world record for an experimental type of miniature particle accelerator: For the first time, a terahertz powered accelerator more than doubled the energy of the injected electrons. At the same time, the setup significantly improved the electron beam quality compared to earlier experiments with the technique, as Dongfang Zhang and his colleagues from the Center for Free-Electron Laser Science (CFEL) at DESY report in the journal Optica. “We have achieved the best beam parameters yet for terahertz accelerators,” said Zhang. “This result represents a critical step forward for the practical implementation of terahertz-powered accelerators,” emphasized Franz Kärtner, who heads the ultrafast optics and X-rays group at DESY.
Terahertz radiation lies between infrared and microwave frequencies in the electromagnetic spectrum and promises a new generation of compact particle accelerators. “The wavelength of terahertz radiation is about a hundred times shorter than the radio waves currently used to accelerate particles,” explained Kärtner. “This means that the components of the accelerator can also be built to be around a hundred times smaller.” The terahertz approach promises lab-sized accelerators that will enable completely new applications for instance as compact X-ray sources for materials science and maybe even for medical imaging. The technology is currently under development.

> Read more on the DESY website

Image: The two-stage miniature accelerator is operated with terahertz radiation (shown here in red). In a first step (left) the electron bunches (shown in blue) are compressed, in a second step (right) they are accelerated. The two individual elements are each about two centimetres wide. Credit: DESY, Gesine Born

Spraying nanopaper

New process produces extremely smooth cellulose layers on an industrial scale

With a new spray coating process, very uniform layers of cellulose nanofibers (CNF) can be produced on an industrial scale. X-ray investigations at DESY’s research light source PETRA III as well as investigations with an atomic force microscope and neutron scattering show how the layer is structured and can be tailored for different purposes like extremely thin, smooth and tough nanopaper. A Swedish-German research team led by DESY scientist Stephan Roth presents its structural analyses in the journal Macromolecules.
“Porous, nanostructured cellulose films have a number of advantageous properties that make them interesting for various applications from ultrastrong bio-active fibres to transparent conductive nanopaper,” explains the main author of the study, Calvin Brett from DESY and the Royal Institute of Technology (KTH) in Stockholm. “They are lightweight and temperature stable, have excellent mechanical properties, a low density and are made from renewable raw materials – cellulose nanofibers are usually made from wood.”

> Read more on the PETRA III at DESY website

Image: A silicon wafer without (top) and with (bottom) nano-cellulose coating. Each wafer is two centimetres wide and ten centimetres long. The coating is just 200 nanometres thin. Credit: DESY/KTH Stockholm, Calvin Brett.

Ancient groundwater enters food web

Ancient groundwater in Australia contributing carbon to food webs through surface water.

An ANSTO-led study that examined the link between groundwater and surface food webs in the Great Artesian Basin has demonstrated for the first time that ancient carbon is incorporated in living aquatic species in these ecosystems in the semi-arid and arid regions of Australia.  

The paper was published in the Journal of Geophysical Research Biogeosciences.

“We suspected that aquatic ecosystems in areas subject to groundwater flows from the Great Artesian Basin might be using carbon from subterranean groundwater as source energy,” said lead author Dr Debashish Mazumder, who used data from previous studies by ANSTO groundwater experts Dr Suzanne Hollins and Dr Karina Meredith.  

>Read more on the ANSTO website

Image: Conceptual model of carbon pathways

Fastest soft X-ray camera in the world installed at European XFEL

DSSC detector will expand scientific capabilities of soft X-ray instruments

At European XFEL near Hamburg the world’s fastest soft X-ray camera has successfully been put through its paces. The installation, commissioning and operation of the unique detector marks the culmination of over a decade of international collaborative research and development. The so-called DSSC detector, designed specifically for the low energy regimes and long X-ray wavelengths used at the European XFEL soft X-ray instruments, will significantly expand the scientific capabilities of the instrument for Spectroscopy and Coherent Scattering (SCS) where it is installed. It will enable ultrafast studies of electronic, spin and atomic structures at the nanoscale making use of each X-ray flash provided by European XFEL. At the end of May, the first scientific experiments using the DSSC were successfully conducted at SCS.

> Read more on the European XFEL website

Image: European XFEL management and staff celebrate the successful installation and commissioning of the DSSC detector at the SCS instrument. The DSSC can be seen behind the group in the centre of the photo. From left to right European XFEL managing director Nicole Elleuche, Detector group leader Markus Kuster, European XFEL managing director Robert Feidenhans’l, DSSC consortium leader Matteo Porro, detector scientist Monica Turcato, SCS group leader Andreas Scherz. Copyright European XFEL

New beamlines at SOLARIS

Environmental protection, nanotechnology, diagnosis of diseases, and even samples of cosmic dust – these are only some of directions in research that will be performed soon thanks to the decision of the Ministry of Science and Higher Education to finance the construction of two new beamlines and  end station at the SOLARIS synchrotron in Kraków.

The new research infrastructure, eagerly awaited by the Polish scientific community, includes:

  • a beamline for infrared spectroscopic studies (FTIR)
  • a beamline for multimodal X-ray imaging (POLYX)
  • a scanning transmission X-ray end station (STXM).

The main research conducted on the FTIR beamline will focus on biomedical aspects, from in vitro  (conducted on cell cultures in laboratory conditions) to ex vivo experiments (on tissues or cells collected from living bodies), in the range of basic research, developing new analytical technologies and diagnostics.

>Read more on the SOLARIS website

Revolutionary discovery in leukemia research

Leukemia affects over 6,000 Canadians per year. A team of researchers used the Canadian Light Source (CLS) at the University of Saskatchewan to discover a new way to kill leukemia cancer cells. When the scientists hyperactivated the “garbage disposal systems” of leukemia cells, it caused the cancer to die.
The researchers believe this finding will transform the direction of cancer therapy by focusing on a protein that was previously believed to be impossible to target. Their study was featured on the cover of the journal Cancer Cell.
“It was a major advancement to visualize the structural biology through crystallography facilities at CLS and to prove conclusively that ONC201 binds and hyperactivates ClipP proteases to induce cell death,” said co-author Dr. Aaron Schimmer from the Princess Margaret Cancer Centre and the University of Toronto.

>Read more on the Canadian Light Source website

Image: Interface of two heptamer rings in an apparently closed conformation of human mitochondrial ClpP.

Creating ‘movies’ of thin film growth at NSLS-II


Coherent x-rays at NSLS-II enable researchers to produce more accurate observations of thin film growth in real time.

From paint on a wall to tinted car windows, thin films make up a wide variety of materials found in ordinary life. But thin films are also used to build some of today’s most important technologies, such as computer chips and solar cells. Seeking to improve the performance of these technologies, scientists are studying the mechanisms that drive molecules to uniformly stack together in layers—a process called crystalline thin film growth. Now, a new research technique could help scientists understand this growth process better than ever before.
Researchers from the University of Vermont, Boston University, and the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Brookhaven National Laboratory have demonstrated a new experimental capability for watching thin film growth in real-time. Using the National Synchrotron Light Source II (NSLS-II)—a DOE Office of Science User Facility at Brookhaven—the researchers were able to produce a “movie” of thin film growth that depicts the process more accurately than traditional techniques can. Their research was published on June 14, 2019 in Nature Communications.

>Read more on the NSLS-II website

Image: Co-authors Peco Myint (BU) and Jeffrey Ulbrandt (UVM) are shown at NSLS-II’s CHX beamline, where the research was conducted.


Diamond’s 8000th publication: The future of solar cells

A collaboration between researchers in the UK and China recently led to the publication of the 8000th research article describing cutting edge science carried out at Diamond Light Source. Professor David Lidzey from the University of Sheffield and his collaborator Professor Tao Wang from Wuhan University of Technology published their findings in Nano Energy with implications for the future of solar cells.
Fullerene molecules known as “Bucky balls” have been used as charge acceptors in solar cells for a long time. Researchers used Diamond Light Source to investigate new acceptor molecules that would be cheaper to manufacture. They discovered that depending on the molecule and the way that it was blended with polymers, they were able to see a significant efficiency increase over traditional compositions. The added efficiency came from the fact that the new compositions could absorb light over a broader wavelength range. This means that if used in solar cells, they will be able to use more of the sun’s light than is possible using current materials.
The added efficiency comes from the molecules themselves as well as the way they are blended and cast. Using the GWAXS technique at Diamond, the researchers found that flat acceptor molecules were able to stack very efficiently and that the production method allowed them to self-organise on nanometre length scales allowing aggregates to form that extend the wavelengths that can be absorbed.

>Read more on the Diamond Light Source website

Image: A representation of a “bucky ball” or fullerene molecule, commonly used as charge acceptors in solar panels.

Natural defense against red tide toxin found in bullfrogs

A team led by Berkeley Lab faculty biochemist Daniel Minor has discovered how a protein produced by bullfrogs binds to and inhibits the action of saxitoxin, the deadly neurotoxin made by cyanobacteria and dinoflagellates that causes paralytic shellfish poisoning.
The findings, published this week in Science Advances, could lead to the first-ever antidote for the compound, which blocks nerve signaling in animal muscles, causing death by asphyxiation when consumed in sufficient quantities.
“Saxitoxin is among the most lethal natural poisons and is the only marine toxin that has been declared a chemical weapon,” said Minor, who is also a professor at the UCSF Cardiovascular Research Institute. About one thousand times more potent than cyanide, saxitoxin accumulates in tissues and can therefore work its way up the food chain – from the shellfish that eat the microbes to fish, turtles, marine mammals, and us.

>Read more on the ALS website

Image: A photo illustration showing the atomic structures of saxiphilin and saxitoxin, a red tide algal bloom, and an American bullfrog (R. catesbeiana).
Credit: Daniel L. Minor, Jr., and Deborah Stalford/Berkeley Lab.

Beryllium configuration with neighbouring oxygen atoms revealed

High-pressure experiments prove 50-year-old theoretical prediction.

In high-pressure experiments at DESY’s X-ray light source PETRA III, scientists have observed a unique configuration of beryllium for the first time: At pressures nearly a million times the average atmospheric pressure, beryllium in a phosphate crystal acquires six neighbouring atoms instead of the usual four. This six-fold coordination had been predicted by theory more than 50 ago, but could not be observed until now in inorganic compounds. DESY scientist Anna Pakhomova and her collaborators report their results in the journal Nature Communications.
“Originally, chemistry textbooks stated that elements like beryllium from the second period of the periodic table could never have more than four neighbours, due to their electron configuration”, explains Pakhomova. “Then around 50 years ago theorists discovered that higher coordinations could actually be possible, but these have adamantly evaded experimental proof in inorganic compounds.” Inorganic compounds are typically those without carbon – apart from a few exceptions like carbon dioxide and carbon monoxide.

>Read more on the PETRA III at DESY website

Image: Transformation of the usual fourfold coordination of beryllium to five- and sixfold with increasing pressure. (Credit: DESY, Anna Pakhomova)

Helping people to hear

Using advanced techniques at the Canadian Light Source (CLS) at the University of Saskatchewan, scientists have created three-dimensional images of the complex interior anatomy of the human ear, information that is key to improving the design and placement of cochlear implants.
“With the images, we can now see the relationship between the cochlear implant electrode and the soft tissue, and we can design electrodes to better fit the cochlea,” said Dr. Helge Rask-Andersen, senior professor at Uppsala University in Sweden.
“The technique is fantastic and we can now assess the human inner ear in a very detailed way.”
The cochlea is the part of the inner ear that looks like a snail shell and receives sound in the form of vibrations. In cases of hearing loss, cochlear implants are used to bypass damaged parts of the ear and directly stimulate the auditory nerve. The implant generates signals that travel via the auditory nerve to the brain and are recognized as sound.
By imaging the soft and bony structures of the inner ear with implant electrodes in place, Rask-Andersen said the researchers were able to discover what the auditory nerve looks like in three dimensions, and to learn how cochlear implant electrodes behave inside the cochlea. This is very important when cochlear implants are considered for people with limited hearing.

>Read more on the Canadian Light Source website

Image: the inner ear

Simulating earthquakes and meteorite impacts in the lab

New device squeezes samples with 1.6 billion atmospheres per second.

A new super-fast high-pressure device at DESY’s X-ray light source PETRA III allows scientists to simulate and study earthquakes and meteorite impacts more realistically in the lab. The new-generation dynamic diamond anvil cell (dDAC), developed by scientists from Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL), DESY, the European Synchrotron Radiation Source ESRF, and the universities of Oxford, Bayreuth and Frankfurt/Main, compresses samples faster than any similar device before. The instrument can turn up the pressure at a record rate of 1.6 billion atmospheres per second (160 terapascals per second, TPa/s) and can be used for a wide range of dynamic high-pressure studies. The developers present their new device, that has already proven its capabilities in various materials experiments, in the journal Review of Scientific Instruments.
“For more than half a century the diamond anvil cell or DAC has been the primary tool to create static high pressures to study the physics and chemistry of materials under those extreme conditions, for example to explore the physical properties of materials at the center of the Earth at 3.5 million atmospheres,” said lead author Zsolt Jenei from LLNL. To simulate fast dynamic processes like earthquakes and asteroid impacts more realistically with high compression rates in the lab, Jenei’s team, in collaboration with DESY scientists, now developed a new generation of dynamically driven diamond anvil cell (dDAC), inspired by the pioneering original LLNL design, and coupled it with the new fast X-ray diffraction setup of the Extreme Conditions Beamline P02.2 at PETRA III.

>Read more on the PETRA III at DESY website

Image: Artist’s impression of a meteorite impact.
Credit: NASA