New possibilities against the HIV epidemic

Research identifies new antibodies with potent activity against virus and infected cells

The Human Immunodeficiency Virus type-1 (HIV-1) currently infects 37 million people worldwide, with an additional 2 million new infections each year. Following infection, the virus has a long period of latency, during which it multiplies without causing symptoms. HIV attacks the cells of the immune system, especially the cells called CD4+ T-lymphocytes, which are responsible for triggering the body’s response chain against infections. Thus, by suppressing the action of the immune system, the virus destroys the body’s ability to defend itself against other diseases, leading to the so-called Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome, or AIDS.
Even with the development of antiretroviral therapies that have improved quality of life and increased the life expectancy of patients with HIV/AIDS, it is widely accepted that the only way to effectively curb this devastating epidemic is through the development of an HIV-1 vaccine.

>Read more on the Brazilian Synchrotron Light Laboratory website

Image: Part of the structure of the CAP228-16H protein with the region of the V2 loop highlighted in yellow. (Full image here)

HIPPIE provides a closer look at water filtration

Clean fresh water is a scarce resource. Areas of the world suffering from drought have to filter the salt out of seawater to make it drinkable. In other areas, the water may instead have a high content of toxic compounds, such as arsenic.
If you think about a water filter as a kind of strainer with tiny holes through it, you would assume that since it does a pretty good job of filtering out the small ions of normal table salt, sodium, and chloride, from seawater it would work even better for the larger arsenic compounds. This is however not the case when it comes to desalination – the technology for producing fresh water from seawater; quite the opposite actually. While sodium and chloride are removed effectively, other, much larger contaminants pass through the filtration materials that are typically used. That indicates there must be another mechanism at work here.

>Read more on the MAX IV Laboratory website

The best topological conductor yet: spiraling crystal is the key to exotic discovery

X-ray research at Berkeley Lab reveals samples are a new state of matter

The realization of so-called topological materials – which exhibit exotic, defect-resistant properties and are expected to have applications in electronics, optics, quantum computing, and other fields – has opened up a new realm in materials discovery.
Several of the hotly studied topological materials to date are known as topological insulators. Their surfaces are expected to conduct electricity with very little resistance, somewhat akin to superconductors but without the need for incredibly chilly temperatures, while their interiors – the so-called “bulk” of the material – do not conduct current.
Now, a team of researchers working at the Department of Energy’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab) has discovered the strongest topological conductor yet, in the form of thin crystal samples that have a spiral-staircase structure. The team’s study of crystals, dubbed topological chiral crystals, is reported in the March 20 edition of the journal Nature.

>Read more on the ALS at Berkeley Lab website

Image: This illustration shows a repeated 2D patterning of a property related to electrical conductivity, known as the surface Fermi arc, in rhodium-silicon crystal samples.
Credit: Hasan Lab/Princeton University

Students use AI for sample positioning at BioMAX

The samples at BioMAX beamline are very sensitive biomolecule crystals. It could, for example, be one of the many proteins you have in your body. They only last for a short time in the intense X-ray light before being damaged and needs to be placed exactly right before the researchers switch on the beam. In their masters’ project, Isak Lindhé, and Jonathan Schurmann have used methods of artificial intelligence to train the computer how to do it.

Hundreds of thousands of proteins
You have hundreds of thousands of different proteins in your body. They do everything from transporting oxygen in your blood to letting your cells take up nutrients after you’ve eaten or make your heart beat. And when things go wrong, you get prescribed medication. The pharmaceutical molecules connect to the proteins in your body to change how they work. To develop new pharmaceuticals with few side effects, the researchers, therefore, need to understand what different proteins look like in detail.

A tedious task
To get high-quality data from a sample it needs to be correctly positioned in the X-ray beam. The conventional model for finding the right position is to scan the sample in the beam to optimize the position. At MAX IV, the X-ray light is very intense, which is good because smaller crystals can be used. But at the same time, very often the sample can’t be scanned in the beam since it would be damaged long before the right position is found. The researchers, therefore, have to perform the rather tedious task of positioning it manually.

>Read more on the MAX IV Laboratory website

First electron beam loops around Sirius’ booster

New Brazilian synchrotron light source will allow unprecedented experiments benefitting many fields

In the early evening of March 8th, when the campus of the Brazilian Center for Research in Energy and Materials (CNPEM) was mostly silent, shouts of celebration echoed through the corridors of the Sirius building, the new Brazilian synchrotron light source.
Inside, the team responsible for the installation of the particle accelerators reached another milestone: the first loop around the second among its three accelerators: the booster. It is a finely tuned equipment, along which the electrons must travel with micrometric precision.
After the initial production and acceleration of the electrons in the Linac, the electrons gain more and more energy at each loop around the Booster. When they reach the appropriate energy levels, the electrons are deposited in the main accelerator, called storage ring, where they remain for long periods of time generating synchrotron light.

>Read more on the Brazilian Synchrotron Lights Laboratory (LNLS)

Image: Sirius in Campinas (Brazil).

ESRF installs first components of new Extremely Brilliant Source

The ESRF’s new Extremely Brilliant Source (EBS) is officially entering a new stage.

This week, the first components for the EBS – the world’s first, high-energy fourth-generation synchrotron light source – have been installed in its storage ring tunnel: a new milestone in the history of the European Synchrotron.
The first Extremely Brilliant Source girders have been installed in the ESRF’s storage ring tunnel. “It’s a great moment for all the teams,” said Pantaleo Raimondi, ESRF accelerator & source director. “Seeing the first girders installed on time is testament to the expertise, hard work and commitment of all involved for more than four years. EBS represents a great leap forward in progress and innovation for the new generation of synchrotrons.”

The start of installation is a key milestone in the facility’s 150M€ pioneering upgrade programme to replace its third-generation source with a revolutionary and award-winning machine that will boost the performance of its generated X-ray beams by 100, giving scientists new research opportunities in fields such as health, energy, the environment, industry and nanotechnologies. The EBS lattice has already been adopted by other synchrotrons around the world, and 18 upgrades following EBS’s example are planned, including in the United States, in Japan and in China.

>Read more on the European Synchrotron website

Image: The first 12-tonne EBS girder is lowered into the storage ring tunnel.

Cause of cathode degradation identified for nickel-rich materials

Combination of research methods reveals causes of capacity fading, giving scientists better insight to design advanced batteries for electric vehicles

A team of scientists including researchers at the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Brookhaven National Laboratory and SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory have identified the causes of degradation in a cathode material for lithium-ion batteries, as well as possible remedies. Their findings, published on Mar. 7 in Advanced Functional Materials, could lead to the development of more affordable and better performing batteries for electric vehicles.

Searching for high-performance cathode materials
For electric vehicles to deliver the same reliability as gas vehicles they need lightweight yet powerful batteries. Lithium-ion batteries are the most common type of battery found in electric vehicles today, but their high cost and limited lifetimes are limitations to the widespread deployment of electric vehicles. To overcome these challenges, scientists at many of DOE’s national labs are researching ways to improve the traditional lithium-ion battery.

>Read more on the NSLS-II at Brookhaven Lab website

Image: Members of the Brookhaven team are shown at NSLS-II’s ISS beamline, where part of the research was conducted. Pictured from front to back are Eli Stavitski, Xiao-Qing Yang, Xuelong Wang, and Enyuan Hu.

X-ray fluorescence sheds light on the growth patterns of extinct hyaena

A novel synchrotron technique examines growth patterns in fossil bones

Until recently, it was thought that warm-blooded animals experienced uninterrupted high rates of growth, whilst cold-blooded animals showed zonal growth – alternating periods of fast and slow growth. The identification of zonal growth in a range of mammals and birds disproved that theory, but as yet we don’t know how widespread zonal growth is in vertebrates, or which factors affect the speed of bone growth. Conventional techniques lack the resolution to correlate variations in bone chemistry with histological features, but in work recently published in the Journal of Analytical Atomic Spectrometry, an international team of researchers carried out the first direct comparison between optical histology (bone tissue identification) and synchrotron-based chemical mapping, quantification, and characterisation of trace elements (biochemistry) within cyclic growth tissues, and reported the first case of zonal tissue within the Hyaenidae.

>Read more on the Diamond Light Source website

Image: Lead author Jennifer Anné with a spotted hyaena mount.

Signatures of enhanced superconducting phase coherence in cuprates

The capability to control material properties on short timescales is one of the key challenges of modern condensed matter physics. This possibility becomes even more attractive in the case of intriguing material phases, such as superconductivity. As a matter of fact, despite the evolution of non-equilibrium spectroscopies of the last two decades have increased our understanding of the physics of strongly correlated materials, after more than 30 years from its discovery, High Temperature Superconductivity is still discussed and a clear and unanimous explanation of the origin of the phenomenon is still lacking. Moreover, the understanding of the phenomena at the basis of this effects could affect several technological applications, from the need for fast digital circuits and for speeding up computer performances, to the detection of very low magnetic fields, with implication in geology (mineral exploration and earthquake prediction), medical sciences (neuron activity and magnetic resonance), oil prospecting and, of course, research.
We focused our research on cuprates, a class of materials known for displaying unconventional superconductivity at relatively temperatures, and on which various studies have shown the possibility of turning off (and, to some extent, on) superconductivity by ultrashort light pulses. In our work, we reveal that light pulses characterized by long wavelength (and a peculiar polarization) can induce, for a very short time interval (1-2 ps), a state displaying superconductivity even above the critical temperature, i.e. in conditions where superconductivity is not observed at equilibrium.

>Read more on the FERMI at Elettra Sincrotrone Trieste website

Figure: Difference between the transient reflectivity due to Cu-Cu and Cu-O polarized pump in time and temperature, induced by excitations with (a) 70 and (b) 170 meV pump photon energies. The dashed lines highlight the critical temperature Tc.

A new molecule could help put the STING on cancer

The protein STING (stimulator of interferon genes) is a component of the innate immune system. It plays a major role in the immune response to cancer, and abnormal STING signaling has been shown to be associated with certain cancers. Immunomodulatory approaches using agonists to target STING signaling are therefore being investigated as anticancer treatments. However, the compounds in clinical trials typically are injected intratumorally in patients with solid cancers. In this study, researchers discovered a novel STING agonist, known as an amidobenzimidazole (ABZI), which can be given by intravenous injection and could therefore potentially open up its evaluation as a treatment for hard-to-reach cancers. Using x-ray diffraction data collected at the U.S. Department of Energy’s Advanced Photon Source (APS), researchers from GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) investigated ABZI compounds and STING. Their results, published in the journal Nature, may have important implications for anticancer immunotherapy.

STING is a protein that mediates innate immunity, and one function of the STING signaling pathway is in mobilizing an immune response against tumors. STING proteins can be activated by cyclic dinucleotides, small molecules that are made by the cytosolic DNA sensor, cGAS, upon sensing of DNA leaking out of the nucleus as a result of DNA damage, including that which might be associated with cancer development.

>Read more on the Advanced Photon Source at Argonne National Lab.

Figure: X-ray crystal structure of the STING protein bound to one of the new molecules.

New technique for two-dimensional material analysis

Discovery allows scientists to look at how 2D materials move with ultrafast precision.

Using a never-before-seen technique, scientists have found a new way to use some of the world’s most powerful X-rays to uncover how atoms move in a single atomic sheet at ultrafast speeds.

The study, led by researchers at the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Argonne National Laboratory and in collaboration with other institutions, including the University of Washington and DOE’s SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory, developed a new technique called ultrafast surface X-ray scattering. This technique revealed the changing structure of an atomically thin two-dimensional crystal after it was excited with an optical laser pulse.
>Read more on the Advanced Photon Source at Argonne website
>Another article is also available on the Linac Coheren Light Source at SLAC website

Image: An experimental station at SLACs Linac Coherent Light Source X-ray free-electron laser, where scientists used a new tool they developed to watch atoms move within a single atomic sheet.
Credit: SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory

A deep dive into the imperfect world of 2D materials

Berkeley Lab-led team combines several nanoscale techniques to gain new insights on the effects of defects in a well-studied monolayer material

Nothing is perfect, or so the saying goes, and that’s not always a bad thing. In a study at the Department of Energy’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab), scientists learned how nanoscale defects can enhance the properties of an ultrathin, so-called 2D material. They combined a toolbox of techniques to home in on natural, nanoscale defects formed in the manufacture of tiny flakes of a monolayer material known as tungsten disulfide (WS2) and measured their electronic effects in detail not possible before. “Usually we say that defects are bad for a material,” said Christoph Kastl, a postdoctoral researcher at Berkeley Lab’s Molecular Foundry and the lead author of the study, published in the journal ACS Nano. “Here they provide functionality.”

Tungsten disulfide is a well-studied 2D material that, like other 2D materials of its kind, exhibits special properties because of its atomic thinness. It is particularly well-known for its efficiency in absorbing and emitting light, and it is a semiconductor.

>Read more on the Advanced Light Source website

Image: This image shows an illustration of the atomic structure of a 2D material called tungsten disulfide. Tungsten atoms are shown in blue and sulfur atoms are shown in yellow. The background image, taken by an electron microscope at Berkeley Lab’s Molecular Foundry, shows groupings of flakes of the material (dark gray) grown by a process called chemical vapor deposition on a titanium dioxide layer (light gray).
Credit: Katherine Cochrane/Berkeley Lab

A step closer to early detection of multiple sclerosis

Synchrotron techniques identify the critical conditions that alter myelin structure

Multiple sclerosis (MS) is a chronic inflammatory autoimmune disease resulting in the destruction of myelin, a fatty substance that insulates nerves and increases the speed at which signals travel between nerve cells. MS affects more than 2.3 million people worldwide and has no cure. In work recently published in PNAS, a team of researchers from Tel Aviv University and the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology mapped, for the first time, the delicate and complicated force balance between the myelin sheath constituents, and their effect on the myelin structure. This new information will allow the identification of critical components involved in neurodegenerative diseases such as MS.

First ever images of fuel debris fallout particles from Fukushima

Unique synchrotron visualisation techniques offer new forensic insights into the provenance of radioactive material from the Fukushima nuclear accident to understand the sequence of events related to the accident.

In April 2017, a joint team comprising the University of Bristol, the Japan Atomic Energy Agency (JAEA) and Diamond, the UK’s national synchrotronlight source, undertook the first experiment of its kind to be performed at Diamond.  A small radioactive particle (450μm x 280μm x 250 μm) from the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear accident in 2011 underwent a comprehensive and independent analysis of its internal structure and 3D elemental distribution, to establish the source of the material and the potential environmental risks associated with it.  

>Read more on the Diamond Light Source website

Image: Fukushima Particles research group (L-R): Cristoph Rau (I13), Yukihiko Satou, (researcher from the Collaborative Laboratories for Advanced Decommissioning Science, Japan Atomic Energy Agency), with Tom Scott and Peter Martin (University of Bristol).

Sakura Pascarelli appointed scientific director at European XFEL

Italian physicist will be responsible for scientific development of hard X-ray instruments

The Italian physicist Dr. Sakura Pascarelli will be the new scientific director at European XFEL. Pascarelli will join European XFEL on 1 September from the European Synchrotron Radiation Facility, ESRF in Grenoble, France. She succeeds Andreas Schwarz who retired at the end of 2018. As one of three scientific directors, Pascarelli will be responsible for the four short-waved hard X-ray instruments at European XFEL: FXE for studying extremely fast processes, SPB/SFX for investigating biomolecules and biological samples, HED for studying matter under extreme pressures and temperatures, and MID for investigating nanostructures or irregularly ordered materials such as glass, liquids and biological substances. In addition, Pascarelli will also be responsible for developing the scientific research program for these experiment stations.

>Read more on the European XFEL website

Image: Sakura Pascarelli
Credit: Chantal Argoud (ESRF)

Clear view of “Robo” neuronal receptor opens door for new cancer drugs

During brain development, billions of neuron nerve cells must find accurate pathways in the brain in order to form trillions of neuronal circuits enabling us to enjoy cognitive, sensory and emotional wellbeing.

To achieve this remarkable precision, migrating neurons use special protein receptors that sense the environment around them and guide the way so these neurons stay on the right path. In a new study published in Cell, researchers from Bar-Ilan University and Tel Aviv University in Israel, EMBL Grenoble in France and University of Exeter in the UK report on their discovery of the intricate molecular mechanism that allows a key guidance receptor, “Robo”, to react to signals in its environment.

One of the most important protein signaling systems that guide neurons consists of the cell surface receptor “Robo” and its external guidance cue, “Slit”. “Slit and Robo can be identified in virtually all animals with a nervous system, from a 1 mm-long nematode all the way to humans,” explains researcher Yarden Opatowsky, associate professor and head of the Laboratory of Structural Biology at Bar-Ilan University and who led the research.

>Read more on the European Synchrotron website

Image: A surface representation of the crystal structure of the extracellular portion of human Robo2. The yellow region represents the domain where dimerisation takes place. Here, we see it blocked by the other domains, meaning dimerisation cannot take place and that Robo2 is inactivated.
Credit: Y. Opatowsky.