Collaboration: a watchword for the light source community

Scientists Nina Perry and Nina Vyas, from Diamond Light Source ( – the UK’s synchrotron), along with SaeHwan Chun, scientist at the PAL-XFEL ( – the Free Electron Laser in South Korea) talk about a theme that is common to all light sources around the world, and indeed to science and all its associated disciplines. Cooperation and collaboration, and their benefits for scientists’ wellbeing as well as the science, are highlighted in this #LightSourceSelfie video.

Nina Perry & Ninya Vyas, on Beamline B24 at Diamond Light Source, the UK’s synchrotron science facility

Photon Science: A career of creativity & intriguing questions awaits

Markus Ilchen is a physicist at FLASH, the world’s first short wavelength free-electron laser. FLASH is located at DESY in Hamburg. The DESY campus is a ‘small city’ of science offering a versatile and vibrant culture for a wide variety of professions and scientific disciplines. In his #LightSourceSelfie, Markus gives you a peek into some of the highlights on campus, describing some of its history and how FLASH’s unique capabilities will help him to study the chirality (handedness) of molecules. Contributing to solving the mystery behind what chirality does in our universe, drives him and his colleagues.

For those starting out in photon science, Markus has this advice, “Enjoy the great choice! But still of course find your sweet spot. Find your place where you have fun; where you can be yourself; where you can work with nice people; where you are working on intriguing questions; where you can be creative and enjoy the freedom of science in a way that, for one, it keeps you up at night but in a good way.”

Revolutionizing data access through Tiled

Every time scientists study a new material for future batteries or investigate diseases to develop new drugs, they must wade through an ocean of data. Today, a whole ecosystem of scientific tools creates a wild variety of data to be explored. This exploration will now get a lot easier thanks to scientists at the National Synchrotron Light Source II (NSLS-II), located at the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Brookhaven National Laboratory. Their freshly rolled-out software tool—called Tiled—allows researchers to see, slice, and study their data more conveniently than ever before. This new data access tool makes finding and analyzing the right piece of data a walk in the park compared to previous methods, paving the way for the next scientific breakthrough.

As one of the 28 DOE Office of Science user facilities across the Nation, NSLS-II welcomes nearly 2,000 scientists each year to use its ultrabright light, tackling the greatest challenges in materials and life science. These visiting researchers come from around the globe to collaborate with experts and use the one-of-a-kind research tools at NSLS-II. They zap their samples, ranging from ancient rocks to novel quantum materials, with intense x-rays and catch outgoing signals using advanced detectors. In turn, these detectors spit out streams of data, waiting to be analyzed by scientists.

“Working with data is a central part of all research, and yet a challenge on its own. It comes in a multitude of formats, in varying sizes and shapes, and not every piece of it is useful for the researchers. This is why developing a software tool that makes accessing, seeing, and sorting through data so important,” said Dan Allan, computational scientist at NSLS-II.

Read more on the Brookhaven National Laboratory website

Image: Scientists can use Tiled to seamlessly access data stores across various formats such as files, data bases or other data services. Tiled allows its users to see, slice, and study their data using the most convenient tool for them

Credit: Brookhaven National Laboratory

World changing science

Marion Flatken is a 3rd year PhD student working in the Department Novel Materials and Interfaces for photovoltaic solar cells led by Prof. Dr. Antonio Abate, at HZB.

In her #LightSourceSelfie, Marion describes the perovskite solar cell research she is undertaking and reflects on the opportunity light sources present to scientists.  She says,

“We are really having the chance to work in a unique environment and to use the knowledge and the facilities and the resources that we have to really change the world literally.”

Marion Flatken’s #LightSourceSelfie

Beamline filming location: HZB ASAXS-Instrument, FCM-beamline at PTB laboratory (Physikalisch-Technische Bundesanstalt), BESSYII

Lightsource research on SARS-CoV-2

Coronaviruses are a family which includes the common cold, SARS, MERS and the current outbreak of the disease COVID-19, caused by the SARS-CoV-2 virus.
Several facilities of our collaboration have started research about SARS-CoV-2 virus or launched open calls for rapid access. This post will be updated regularly.

Publications on SARS-CoV-2 Rapid Access


The Canadian Light Source (Canada) has created a specific page highlighting their COVID-19 research: COVID-19 research at the Canadian Light Source

BESSY II at HZB (Germany) has set up a page where it shows their contributions to the research on SARS-CoV-2 , see here

DESY (Germany) has launched a new page dedicated to Corona Research:

Diamond Light Source (UK) has created a specific website “Coronavirus Science” with platforms for various audiences: scientific community, general public and the media:

ELETTRA (Italy) has launched a new page dedicated to COVID-19 research:

The Photon Division of PSI (Switzerland) have collated many information linked to their institute on coronavirus-relevant research (recent publications, rapid access…):

ALBA (Spain) has set up a dedicated area on their website for information related to COVID-19 (rapid access, publications etc):

The ALS (CA/USA) has created a page listing all COVID-19 related research:

Published articles

2021.11.06 APS at Argonne National Laboratory article on their website: Advanced Photon Source Helps Pfizer Create COVID-19 Antiviral Treatment

2021.08.11 BESSY II at HZB (Germany) article on their website: HZB coordinates European collaboration to develop active agents against Corona – Helmholtz-Zentrum Berlin (HZB) (

2021.08.10 Canadian Light Source article on their website: Developing antiviral drugs to treat COVID-19 infections

2021.07.06 European XFEL (Germany) article on their website: XFEL: Insights into coronavirus proteins using small angle X-ray scattering

2021.06.21 Diamond Light Source (UK) article on their website: X-ray fluorescence imaging at Diamond helps find a way to improve accuracy of Lateral Flow Tests

2021.06.17 Australian Synchrotron (ANSTO) article on their website: Research finds possible key to long term COVID-19 symptoms

2021.05.11 Swiss Light Source at PSI (Switzerland) article on their website: How remdesivir works against the coronavirus

2021.05.28 SLAC (CA / USA) article from the Stanford Synchrotron Radiation Lightsource (SSRL): Structure-guided Nanobodies Block SARS-CoV-2 Infection | Stanford Synchrotron Radiation Lightsource

2021.05.21 ALS (USA) article on their website: Guiding Target Selection for COVID-19 Antibody Therapeutics

2021.05.21 ESRF (France) article on their website: Combatting COVID-19 with crystallography and cryo-EM (

2021.05.18 ALS (USA) article on their website: How X-Rays Could Make Reliable, Rapid COVID-19 Tests a Reality | Berkeley Lab (

2021.04.27 Canadian Light Source (Canada), video on their website Investigating the long-term health impacts of COVID-19 (

2021.04.22 Synchrotron Light Research Institute (Thailand), article on their website: SLRI Presented Innovations Against COVID-19 Outbreak to MHESI Minister on His Visit to a Field Hospital at SUT

2021.04.16 Diamond Light Source (UK) article on their website: Massive fragment screen points way to new SARS-CoV-2 inhibitors

2021.04.14 SLAC (CA / USA), article also with news about research at Stanford Synchrotron Radiation Lightsource (SSRL):Researchers search for clues to COVID-19 treatment with help from synchrotron X-rays

2021.04.07 Diamond Light Source (UK), article on their website: First images of cells exposed to COVID-19 vaccine – – Diamond Light Source

2021.04.05 ALS (CA/USA) blog post on Berkeley Lab Biosciences website: New COVID-19 Antibody Supersite Discovered

2021.04.02 PETRA III at DESY (Germany), article and animation on their website DESY X-ray lightsource identifies promising candidate for COVID drugs

2021.03.26 Diamond Light Source (UK), article on their website: New targets for antibodies in the fight against SARS-CoV-2

2021.02.23 Australian Light Source (ANSTO) Australia, article on their website: Progress on understanding what makes COVID-19 more infectious than SARS

2020.12.02 ESRF (France), article and video on their website: ESRF and UCL scientists awarded Chan Zuckerberg Initiative grant for human organ imaging project

2020.11.10 Diamond Light Source (UK), article and video on their website: From nought to sixty in six months… the unmasking of the virus behind COVID-19

2020.10.29 Canadian Light Source (Canada) video on their website: Studying how to damage the COVID-19 virus

2020.10.07 National Synchrotron Light Source II (NSLS-II) at Brookhaven Lab (NY / USA) article on their website: Steady Progress in the Battle Against COVID-19

2020.10.07 Diamond Light Source (UK), article on their website: Structural Biology identifies new information to accelerate structure-based drug design against COVID-19

2020.10.06 MAX IV (Sweden), article on their website: Tackling SARS CoV-2 viral genome replication machinery using X-rays

2020.08.31 SLAC (CA / USA), article also with news about research at Stanford Synchrotron Radiation Lightsource (SSRL): SARS-CoV-2 Spike Protein Targeted for Vaccine

2020.08.27 Diamond Light Source (UK), article on their website: Structural Biology reveals new target to neutralise COVID-19

2020.08.27 Canadian Light Source (Canada) video on their website: Developing more effective drugs

2020.08.25 Australian Synchrotron (ANSTO) (Australia) article on their website: More progress on understanding COVID-19

2020.08.24 DESY (Germany) article on their website: PETRA III provides new insights into COVID-19 lung tissue

2020.08.11 Australian Synchrotron (ANSTO) (Australia) article on their website: Unique immune system of the alpaca being used in COVID-19 research

2020.07.30 Swiss Light Source at PSI (Switzerland) article on their website: COVID-19 research: Anti-viral strategy with double effect

2020.07.29 National Synchrotron Light Source II (NSLS-II) at Brookhaven Lab (NY / USA) article on their website: Ready to join the fight against COVID-19.

2020.07.20 ALBA (Spain) article on their website: A research team from Centro de Investigaciones Biológicas Margarita Salas (CIB-CSIC) uses synchrotron light to study the possible effect of an antitumoral drug of clinical use over the viral cycle of SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus. 

2020.07.15 ALS (USA) article on their website: Antibody from SARS Survivor Neutralizes SARS-CoV-2

2020.07.14 Diamond Light Source (UK), article on their website: Engineered llama antibodies neutralise Covid-19 virus

2020.06.17 European XFEL (Germany) article on their website: Pulling Together: A collaborative research approach to study COVID-19

2020.06.15 European XFEL (Germany) article on their website: Open Science COVID19 analysis platform online

2020.06.09 APS at Argonne National Laboratory (USA) article on their website: Novel Coronavirus Research at the Advanced Photon Source

2020.05. Società Italiana di Fisica publishes an article about research done at Elettra Sincrotrone Trieste (Italy) and the Advanced Light Source (CA / USA): Accelerator facilities support COVID-19-related research

2020.05.27 Diamond Light Source (UK), new animation video demonstrating the work that has been done at Diamond’s XChem facilities.

2020.05.19 Advanced Light Source (CA / USA), article about their latest results: X-ray Experiments Zero in on COVID-19 Antibodies

2020.05.15 Swiss Light Source (Switzerland), article about their first MX results: First MX results of the priority COVID-19 call

2020.05.14 MAX VI (Sweden), article about their research: Tackling SARS CoV-2 viral genome replication machinery using X-rays

2020.05.14 CHESS (NY/USA), article: CHESS to restart in June for COVID-19 research

2020.05.14 the LEAPS initiative brings together many of our European members. The initative published this brochure: Research at LEAPS facilities fighting COVID-19

2020.05.12 Diamond Light Source (UK), article about their collaboration in a consortium: UK consortium launches COVID-19 Protein Portal to provide essential reagents for SARS-CoV-2 research

2020.05.11 Advanced Photon Source (IL/USA), article: Studying Elements from the SARS-CoV-2 Virus at the Bio-CAT Beamline

2020.05.07 European XFEL (Germany), article: European XFEL open for COVID-19 related research

2020.05.06 ESRF (France), article: World X-ray science facilities are contributing to overcoming COVID-19

2020.04.29. BESSY II at HZB (Germany), article: Corona research: Consortium of Berlin research and industry seeks active ingredients

2020.04.29. Swiss Light Source and SwissFEL at PSI (Switzerland), interview series on the PSI website: Research on Covid-19

2020.04.23. PETRA III at DESY (Germany), article: X-ray screening identifies potential candidates for corona drugs

2020.04.21. MAX IV (Sweden), article: BioMAX switches to remote operations in times of COVID-19

2020.04.16. SLAC (CA / USA), article also with news about research at Stanford Synchrotron Radiation Lightsource (SSRL): SLAC joins the global fight against COVID-19

2020.04.15 Berkeley National Lab (CA/ USA), article with a focus on the research at the Advanced Light Source (ALS):
Staff at Berkeley Lab’s X-Ray Facility Mobilize to Support COVID-19-Related Research

2020.04.07 Diamond Light Source (UK), article: Call for Chemists to contribute to the fight against COVID-19
Crowdfunding: COVID-19 Moonshot

2020.04.07. ANSTO’s Australian Synchrotron (Victoria), article: Aiding the global research effort on COVID-19

2020.04.06. National Synchrotron Light Source II (NSLS-II) at Brookhaven Lab (NY / USA), article: Brookhaven Lab Mobilizes Resources in Fight Against COVID-19

2020.04.02. BESSY II at HZB (Germany), article: Corona research: Two days of measuring operation to find the right key

2020.03.31 Diamond Light Source (UK), article: Jointly with Exscientia and Scripps Research, Diamond aims to accelerate the search for drugs to treat COVID-19

2020.03.27 Argonne National Laboratory with the Advanced Photon Source (APS) and other facilities on-site (IL / USA), article: Argonne’s researchers and facilities playing a key role in the fight against COVID-19

2020.03.27 ANSTO’s Australian Synchrotron (Victoria), article and video: Helping in the fight against COVID-19

2020.03.25 PETRA III at DESY (Germany), article: Research team will X-ray coronavirus proteins

2020.03.23 Diamond Light Source (UK) releases its first animation explaining: SARS-CoV-2 Mpro Single Crystal Crystallography

2020.03.25 CERN Courrier (Switzerland) article about synchrotron research on SARS-CoV-2, written by Tessa Charles (accelerator physicist at the University of Melbourne currently based at CERN, completed her PhD at the Australian Synchrotron): Synchrotrons on the coronavirus frontline

2020.03.19 BESSY II at Helmholtz-Zentrum Berlin (Germany), research publication: Coronavirus SARS-CoV2: BESSY II data accelerate drug development

2020.03.19 BESSY II at Helmholtz-Zentrum Berlin (Germany), technique explanation webpage: Protein crystallography at BESSY II: A mighty tool for the search of anti-viral agents

2020.03.16 Diamond Light Source (UK), article on their “Coronavirus Science” website: Main protease structure and XChem fragment screen

2020.03.12. Elettra Sincrotrone (Italy), article on their website: New project to fight the spread of Coronavirus has been approved

2020.03.05. Advanced Photon Source (IL / USA), article on their website: APS Coronavirus Research in the Media Spotlight

2020.03.05. Advanced Photon Source (IL / USA), research publication: “Crystal structure of Nsp15 endoribonuclease NendoU from SARS-CoV-2,” bioRXiv preprint  DOI: 10.1101/2020.03.02.968388, Article on their website (source: Northwestern University): New Coronavirus Protein Reveals Drug Target

Rapid access

Scientists can apply for rapid access at following facilities (only member facilities of are referenced, the most recent published (or updated) call is mentioned first).

  • The National Synchrotron Light Source II (NSLS-II) in NY / USA is offering a streamlined and expedited rapid access proposal process for groups that require beam time for structural biology projects directly related to COVID-19. The Center for Biomolecular Structure team is supporting remote macromolecular crystallography experiments at Beamlines 17-ID-1 (AMX) and 17-ID-2 (FMX) in this research area. To submit a macromolecular crystallography proposal for COVID-19 related research, use the following form:
  • The Advanced Photon Source (APS) at Argonne National Laboratory in IL / USA  user program is operational to support:

·         Research on SARS-CoV-2 or other COVID-19-related research that addresses the current pandemic.

·         Critical, proprietary pharmaceutical research.

·         Mail-in/remote access work for any research involving low-risk samples and most medium-risk samples (as defined on the APS ESAF form).

·         Limited in situ research (set-up with one person, and ability to carry out majority of experiment safely remotely)

PETRA III at DESY in Germany offers also Fast Track Access for Corona-related research:

Australian Synchrotron at ANSTO makes its macromolecular crystallography beamlines available to structural biologists in response to the COVID-19 pandemic:

North American DOE lightsource facilities have created a platform to enable COVID-19 research. There you can find ressources and points of contact to request priority access:
Structural Biology Resources at DOE Light Sources

Elettra Sincrotrone Trieste in Italy opens to remote acces following beamlines: XRD1, XRD2, SISSI-BIO and MCX thanks to an CERIC-ERIC initiative:

The Advanced Light Source (ALS) at LBNL in California / USA has capabilities relevant to COVID-19 and researchers can apply through their RAPIDD mechanism:

ALBA Synchrotron in Spain offers a COVID-19 RAPID ACCESS on all beamlines:

SOLARIS Synchrotron in Poland gives acces to its Cryo Electron Microscope thanks to an CERIC-ERIC initiative:

Swiss Light Source and Swiss FEL at PSI in Switzerland offer priority access to combating COVID-19:

Diamond Light Source in the United Kingdom opened also a call for rapid access:

Image: Electron density at the active site of the SARS-CoV-2 protease, revealing a fragment bound
Credit: Diamond Light Source

Beginning your light source journey

Scientists who use synchrotrons such as the Advanced Light Source in California and CHESS at Cornell University, along with staff scientists at Free Electron Lasers in South Korea (the PAL-XFEL) and California (LCLS at SLAC), reflect on how they felt the first time they used a light source facility to conduct research experiments.  The expertise available from the staff scientists who work on the beamlines is also highlighted in this #LightSourceSelfie video.

APS helps Pfizer create Covid-19 antiviral treatment

Pharmaceutical company Pfizer has announced the results of clinical trials of its new oral antiviral treatment against COVID-19. The new drug candidate, Paxlovid, proved to be effective against the SARS-CoV-2 virus, which causes COVID-19, according to results released by Pfizer on Nov. 5.

Scientists at Pfizer created Paxlovid with the help of the ultrabright X-rays of the Advanced Photon Source (APS), a U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) Office of Science user facility at DOE’s Argonne National Laboratory.

“Today’s news is a real game-changer in the global efforts to halt the devastation of this pandemic,” said Albert Bourla, chairman and chief executive officer of Pfizer, in a company press release. ​“These data suggest that our oral antiviral candidate, if approved or authorized by regulatory authorities, has the potential to save patients’ lives, reduce the severity of COVID-19 infections and eliminate up to nine out of 10 hospitalizations.”

DOE invests in user facilities such as the APS for the benefit of the nation’s scientific community, and supports biological research as part of its energy mission. This research has been critical in the fight against COVID-19. The DOE national laboratories formed the National Virtual Biotechnology Laboratory (NVBL) consortium in 2020 to combat COVID-19 using capabilities developed for their DOE mission, and that consortium helps support research into antiviral treatments such as Paxlovid.

Work to determine the structure of the antiviral candidate was done at the Industrial Macromolecular Crystallography Association Collaborative Access Team (IMCA-CAT) beamline at the APS, operated by the Hauptman-Woodward Medical Research Institute (HWI) on behalf of a collaboration of pharmaceutical companies, of which Pfizer is a member.

As a member of IMCA-CAT, Pfizer routinely conducts drug development experiments at the APS, and the process of narrowing down and zeroing in on this drug candidate was performed over many months, according to Lisa Keefe, executive director of IMCA-CAT and vice president for advancing therapeutics and principal scientist at Hauptman-Woodward Medical Research Institute. IMCA-CAT, she said, delivers quality results in a timely manner, much faster than the home laboratories of the companies themselves can do.

Read more on the APS website

Image: The IMCA-CAT beamline at the Advanced Photon Source, where work was done to determine the structure of Pfizer’s new COVID-19 antiviral treatment candidate.

Credit: Lisa Keefe, IMCA-CAT/Hauptman-Woodward Medical Research Institute

#LightSourceSelfies: Dedication to single crystals

Dohyun Moon is a Beamline Senior Scientist at the Pohang Light Source II in South Korea.  His main work is supporting users visiting the facility for supramolecular crystallography experiments.  Dohyan’s research involves characterising the structure of single crystals using crystallography.  He is constantly researching the inside of unknown materials and getting good singe crystals challenges and motivates him every day.  Hear him talk about his light source journey, aspirations for the future and advice for those considering entering into the realm of light sources. 

Developing new drugs for superbugs like MRSA

The team is using bright beams at the Canadian Light Source (CLS) at the University of Saskatchewan to image how potential antibiotic-enhancing drugs interact with a molecule vital for building the cell wall of bacteria.

Staphylococcus aureus (the “SA” part of MRSA) has a thick protective cell wall that can make it difficult for some antibiotic drugs to attack it. That wall is an attractive target for drugs. If a therapeutic can weaken or break the wall, then the bacteria will die.

One protein that makes an attractive target for drugs is called UppS. It is involved in assembling part of the lipid scaffold on which the wall is built. Attacking UppS could weaken the wall and make the bacteria more susceptible to existing antibiotics, says Sean Workman, a postdoctoral researcher in the Department of Biology at the University of Regina.

“By slowing down the function of UppS we can make the bacteria more sensitive to other drugs,” he says.

Eric Brown, a professor in the Department of Biochemistry and Biomedical Sciences at McMaster University, went looking for drugs that could target the early steps in the creation of the cell wall and found clomiphene, an already-approved fertility drug that could interfere with UppS. He and his colleagues then used the same techniques to find several new molecules that could do the same thing, two of which – MAC-0547630 and JPD447 – seemed to be worth a closer look.

Read more on the CLS website

Image:UppS protein crystals used to obtain high resolution diffraction data.

Credit: Canadian Light Source

#LightSourceSelfies – Light Source scientists are innovators

Kathryn Janzen is an Associate Scientist and User Experience Coordinator at the Canadian Light Source. During her #LightSourceSelfie, Kathryn reflects on the light source community saying “The contacts between light sources are really important and everyone is very interested in sharing ideas. We’re also really interested in innovating and finding new ways to use the light source and finding new applications for old techniques.”

Observation of Magnetoelectric Coupling

Multiferroic materials with coexisting ferroelectric and ferromagnetic orders have attracted much attention due to the magnetoelectric (ME) coupling opening prospects for alternative multifunctional electronic devices.  Switching magnetization by applied electric rather than magnetic field or spin-polarized current requires much less energy, making multiferroics promising for memory and logic applications. Due to a limited number of single-phase multiferroic compounds operating at room temperature, composite multiferroics containing ferroelectric and ferromagnetic components have been considered as viable alternatives. Moreover, it was shown that composite multiferroic materials often have much larger magnetoelectric coupling effect compared to their single-phase counterparts.

The recently emerged class of polycrystalline doped HfO2-based ferroelectric thin films, which are compatible with the modern Si technology, is a promising ferroelectric component in composite multiferroic heterostructures and it is therefore crucial to explore the ME effect at the ferroelectric/ferromagnetic interface in the heterostructures comprising doped HfO2. In this respect, a strong charge-mediated magnetoelectric coupling at the interface between classical ferromagnetic metal – Ni and ferroelectric HfO2has been recently predicted by theoretical modelling.

Read more on the Elettra Website

Image: Schematic drawing of a single capacitor device structure used in operando XAS/XMCD and HAXPES/MCDAD measurements with EELS (Electron energy loss spectroscopy) map of Co, Ni and O. Polarization vs. voltage hysteresis loop at RT and LT (left) and  MOKE (right) of Au/Co/Ni/HZO/W sample are also shown in figure.

Credit: Elettra

“Green” chemistry

In mechanochemistry, reagents are finely ground and mixed so that they combine to form the desired product, even without need for solvent. By eliminating solvent, this technology promises to contribute significantly towards ‘green’ and environmentally benign chemical manufacture in the future. However, there are still major gaps in understanding the key processes that occur during mechanical treatment and reaction. A team led by the Federal Institute for Materials Research (BAM) has now developed a method at BESSY II to observe these processes in situ with X-ray scattering.

Chemical reactions are often based on the use of solvents that pollute the environment. Yet, many reactions can also work without solvent. This is the approach known as mechanochemistry, in which reagents are very finely ground and mixed together so that they react with each other to form the desired product.  The mechanochemical approach is not only more environmentally friendly, but even potentially cheaper than classical synthesis methods. The International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry (IUPAC) therefore ranks mechanochemistry among the 10 chemical innovations that will change our world. However, the full potential of this technology cannot be realized until the processes during mechanical treatment are understood in more detail, so that it is possible to precisely direct and control them.

Read more on the HZB website

Image: Finely ground powders can also react with each other without solvents to form the desired product. This is the approach of mechanochemistry.

Credit: © F. Emmerling/BAM

#LightSourceSelfies Monday Montage – Learning

This #MontageMontage features Kathryn Janzen from the Canadian Light Source (CLS), Nina Vyas and Nina Perry from Diamond Light Source, and Aerial Murphy-Leonard, who conducts experiments at CHESS.  Learning through experience is the best way when it comes to experiments at synchrotrons and Free Electron Lasers.  As Nina Vyas reflects, “It is very nice to learn new things and its quite easy to pick up lots of new skills in science.”

Physics on Autopilot

Brookhaven National Lab applies AI to make big experiments autonomous

As a young scientist experimenting with neutrons and X-rays, Kevin Yager often heard this mantra: “Don’t waste beamtime.” Maximizing productive use of the potent and popular facilities that generate concentrated particles and radiation frequently required working all night to complete important experiments. Yager, who now leads the Electronic Nanomaterials Group at Brookhaven National Laboratory’s Center for Functional Nanomaterials (CFN), couldn’t help but think “there must be a better way.”

Yager focused on streamlining and automating as much of an experiment as possible and wrote a lot of software to help. Then he had an epiphany. He realized artificial intelligence and machine-learning methods could be applied not only to mechanize simple and boring tasks humans don’t enjoy but also to reimagine experiments.

“Rather than having human scientists micromanaging experimental details,” he remembers thinking, “we could liberate them to actually focus on scientific insight, if only the machine could intelligently handle all the low-level tasks. In such a world, a scientific experiment becomes less about coming up with a sequence of steps, and more about correctly telling the AI what the scientific goal is.”

Yager and colleagues are developing methods that exploit AI and machine learning to automate as much of an experiment as possible. “This includes physically handling samples with robotics, triggering measurements, analyzing data, and – crucially – automating the experimental decision-making,” he explains. “That is, the instrument should decide by itself what sample to measure next, the measurement parameters to set, and so on.”

Read more on the Brookhaven website

Image: Example dataset collected during an autonomous X-ray scattering experiment at Brookhaven National Laboratory (BNL). An artificial intelligence/machine learning decision-making algorithm autonomously selected various points throughout the sample to measure. At each position, an X-ray scattering image (small squares) is collected and automatically analyzed. The algorithm considers the full dataset as it selects subsequent experiments.

Credit: Kevin Yager, BNL

#LightSourceSelfies brings a face to science  

Much of today’s scientific advances in a wide range of fields including health, climate change, advanced materials, agriculture, and cultural heritage depend on experiments carried out at light source facilities around the world.

Now, scientists and engineers representing 25 large-scale science facilities from across the global light source community have contributed to a new video campaign to share insights and inspire all those with a curiosity for science and careers connected to synchrotrons and Free Electron Lasers (FELs).

#LightSourceSelfies, which launches today on World Science Day for Peace & Development, features scientists and engineers who hold a range of positions at light sources located across Europe, Asia, Australia, North America, and South America. The campaign also includes scientists who use synchrotrons and FELs to carry out experiments that lead to important discoveries in areas such as health, the environment, agriculture, new materials, planetary science, palaeontology, and cultural heritage.

Our #LightSourceSelfies campaign kicks off with 5 scientists reflecting on what is most inspiring and motivating about their work. Light sources are based across the world and in this video you’ll hear from scientists connected to the Advanced Light Source in California, the Canadian Light Source, FLASH at DESY in Germany, the ESRF in France, and ALBA in Spain.

Kudakwashe Jakata is a Post Doc in Materials Science at the European Synchrotron Radiation Facility (ESRF) in Grenoble, France, and is featured in the campaign’s first video. Describing his work in computer tomography, he says, “It is a very challenging environment and that’s what gets me up every day because I know that there will be lots of things to solve and most of the time new things that I’ve not seem before.” Kudakwashe is from South Africa and adds, “I am really looking forward to the African Light Source coming on board at some point. There has already been a lot of work done on it and a lot of people are working behind the scenes to get it going. I’m looking forward to the science that will be done by Africans at African light sources.”  

Kathryn Janzen is based at the Canadian Light Source (CLS) in Saskatchewan and is also featured in the first video for #LightSourceSelfies. She is an Associate Scientist at CLS’s Canadian Macromolecular Crystallography Facility (CMCF) and User Experience Coordinator. Describing her work, Kathryn explains, “The part that is really inspiring is just seeing how these important experiments that are going on at the synchrotron can really help improve things for everyone in our society.”

During this three-month long campaign, which will run on the website, YouTube, LinkedIn, Instagram, and Twitter, Kudakwashe and Kathryn will be joined by 27 colleagues from across the light source community. Throughout the summer of 2021, #LightSourceSelfies participants filmed themselves in a variety of locations including synchrotrons, FELs, home laboratories, and outside amongst nature. Countries with light sources who are featured in the campaign include Australia, Brazil, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Jordan, Korea, Poland, Spain, Sweden, Taiwan, the UK, and the US.

Everyone involved gave personal perspectives on a range of questions including:

  • What inspires you to do your job and your research?
  • What is the best thing about using/working at a light source?
  • How would you describe the light source community to those about to enter it?
  • How do you survive night shifts?

Sandra Ribeiro, Chair of and Communications Advisor at the Canadian Light Source, commented “Synchrotrons and FELs offer amazing training and job opportunities for those interested in a variety of career paths including science, engineering, computer science, technical roles, science communication, procurement, finance, HR, and legal. Our new video campaign showcases people involved in building and running the amazing facilities that deliver the huge amount of science that happens at light sources around the world. #LightSourceSelfies will give viewers a real sense of what it is like to work within the light source community. We are hugely grateful to everyone who filmed selfie videos for us and hope this campaign will raise awareness about the many exciting career opportunities available at light sources around the globe.”

To follow the #LightSourceSelfies video campaign, visit

To view current vacancies at synchrotrons and FELs within, visit our careers page

Protecting our bones after diabetes and hypertension

On November 14, World Diabetes Day aims to raise awareness for the global health threat posed by diabetes, which affects over 460 million people globally, and to promote coordinated efforts to confront diabetes.

People living with type II diabetes and hypertension face an increased risk of bone fractures. An international team of researchers has used the Canadian Light Source (CLS) at the University of Saskatchewan (USask) to identify a potential bone health therapy that could one day alleviate that problem.

The collaboration between the Bone-Muscle Research Center at the University of Texas at Arlington (BMRC-UTA) and the Colleges of Medicine and Kinesiology at USask explored whether hepatocyte growth factor (HGF) could help reduce the fracture risk for people with type II diabetes. Since 50-85 % of diabetic patients live with hypertension, and both conditions are linked to a higher risk of breaks, this population is particularly vulnerable.

Dr. Kamal Awad, research scientist at the BMRC-UTA and first author on the study, said “bones protect our internal organs and allow us to move, thus maintaining a healthy bone is crucial especially for people suffering from diabetes and hypertension”.

This study focused on HGF, which is a naturally occurring molecule that is known to regulate cell growth throughout the body. Awad said it is also “associated with bone regeneration, remodelling, and the balance between osteoblast and osteoclast, but what was unknown is how HGF affects the chemical structure of the bone.”

Natasha Boyes, a PhD candidate specializing in cardiovascular disease in the College of Kinesiology at USask and first co-author, is interested in the whole-body effects of cardiovascular disease, and explained remodelling as a change process bones undergo throughout a person’s life.

“Most people think bone should be hard,” she said, “but hard bone can be very brittle. What you want is bone with the right architecture, and bone is always changing. Any stimulus can cause bone to adjust its structure. For example, if you’re a runner, your bones will change and adapt to better cope with the pounding (biomechanical stress). That’s remodelling.”

To explore how HGF might improve bone health, the researchers did site-specific injections of HGF on diabetic hypertensive rats, then used spectroscopy at the CLS to study the bone chemical structure with a focus on calcium and phosphorous. The team utilized the facility’s specialized SGMVLS-PGM, and SXRMB beamline facilities for this analysis.

Read more on the CLS website

Image: VLS-PGM beamline

Credit: CLS