Bright Expectations early career event – recording now available!

International Day of Light Early Career Virtual Session

Bright Expectations: Panel discussion with scientists working at 4th Generation Light Sources
Tuesday 16th May 2023

Our Bright Expectations early career event provides an opportunity for viewers to learn what it is like to work at a 4th generation light source directly from scientists from around the world. This interactive session includes short talks from the panellists on the facility they work at/use and their current roles. Ashley White, our moderator, then poses questions to the panel on their career journeys, their views on the advantages and potential of 4th generation lights sources, potential breakthroughs on the horizon and more…

Huge thanks to our amazing panel and moderator!

You can view the recording of the session here

BEATS, SESAME’s fifth beamline sees light and expands the Centre’s scientific capability

SESAME is glad to announce that on Thursday, 11th May 2023, at 16:48, a group of its engineers and scientists successfully delivered the first X-ray photon beam to the experimental station of the BEATS (BEAmline for Tomography at SESAME) beamline. During the experiment, more than 1000 X-ray radiographic images of a rotating test sample were obtained in only 12 seconds by one of the beamline detectors. The data was collected and reconstructed by the high-performance computing facility specifically designed for the beamline and installed at SESAME in 2022, thus allowing the generation of a 3D image of the object. 

The BEATS beamline will provide full-field X-ray radiography and tomography: two powerful and non-destructive techniques for 3D imaging and analysis of a large variety of objects and materials. With its non-destructive approach, this new beamline will deliver virtual volume images that are particularly important for the Cultural Heritage and Archaeological communities. The characterization of the 3D internal microstructure offered by tomography, is also of paramount importance for an exhaustive understanding of other materials, objects, and organisms. The BEATS beamline may be used in a large range of scientific and technological applications ranging from medicine, biology, engineering, and materials science to earth and planetary sciences, thus representing a key asset for researchers in the SESAME region.

The beamline was designed and built thanks to a European project that brought together leading research facilities in the Middle East (SESAME and The Cyprus Institute), and European synchrotron radiation facilities: ALBA-CELLS (Spain), DESY (Germany), Elettra (Italy), the ESRF (France), INFN (Italy), PSI (Switzerland) and SOLARIS (Poland). The initiative has been funded by the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme. The project was coordinated by the ESRF.

Read more on SESAME website

Image: SESAME 2023: Phase contrast reconstruction generated by combining 1000 projections of 12 ms exposure time each (left) of a vial of glass speres 300 µm in diameter positioned in front of the detector on the sample stage (right) for the first test of the BEATS beamline at SESAME.

Synthesised a new catalyst with key properties to solve environmental issues

A research led by the ITQ-CSIC-UPV has discovered a new catalyst enabling hydrogenation of carbon dioxide to methane with advantages not seen until now. This new catalyst, whose structure and mechanism have been understood by synergistically exploiting different ALBA Synchrotron techniques, can be used for methane (natural syngas) production, that is considered as a promising energy carrier for hydrogen storage.

Linear economy has proven to be unsustainable in the long run due to its ineffective use of natural resources that leads to a huge amount of greenhouse gas emissions and waste generation. An alternative model, the so-called circular economy is based on an efficient production cycle that focuses on minimising waste and better recycling and seems to be key to find solutions for the climate crisis. One process that can be essential in this challenge is carbon dioxide (CO2) sequestration and usage, that is, transform atmospheric or produced carbon dioxide into energy carriers or platform molecules of the chemical industry.

An international collaboration between the Instituto de Tecnología Química – a join research center between Consejo Superior de Investigaciones Científicas and Universitat Politècnica de València (ITQ-CSIC-UPV), SOLEIL SynchrotronUniversidad de Cádiz, and ALBA Synchrotron permitted to synthesize a new catalyst able to hydrogenate carbon dioxide to methane with significant improvements in comparison to existing analogues. Its main advantage is that it possesses a much higher activity and so the reaction temperature can be lowered from usual 270-400ºC to only 180ºC, with an excellent long-term stability. Furthermore, this catalyst is able to operate under intermittent power supply conditions, which couples very well with electricity production systems based on renewable energies. Moreover, its synthetic procedure itself is ecofriendly, making it an even greater option in environmental issues.

This new catalyst can be used for methane (natural syngas) production, that is considered as a promising energy carrier for hydrogen storage.

The new solid catalyst was designed and synthesized in the ITQ (CSIC-UPV) by a mild, green hydrothermal synthesis procedure resulting in a material that contains interstitial carbon atoms doped in the ruthenium (Ru) oxide crystal lattice, enabling the stabilization of Ru cations in a low oxidation state with the formation of a none yet reported ruthenium oxy-carbonate phase.

Read more on ALBA website

X-ray nanotomography reveals 3D microstructure of graphite anodes for lithium-ion batteries

The optimisation of battery electrode architecture is a key aspect of improving battery performance, provided that precise characterisation of the complex battery microstructure is possible. In this work, X-ray nanotomography [1] was used at beamline ID16B [2] to obtain high-resolution images of the microstructure of graphite battery electrodes, providing 3D analysis and thorough quantification of the electrode/particle inner structure and porosity at the nanoscale.

A crucial step in the production of battery-grade natural graphite for lithium-ion batteries is the spheroidisation process: the morphological change that occurs in the electrode material during cycling or charging/discharging cycles. However, the low yield (30-50%) of this process results in a large quantity of wasted graphite fines that are not suitable for use in lithium-ion batteries due to their small particle size [3]. A method was devised to recycle waste graphite fines via a re-agglomeration process followed by a petroleum pitch coating in order to obtain aggregated graphite particles with sound mechanical strength and battery-suitable size to be used for electrode preparation. A compression step called ‘calendering’ was applied to the electrode’s coating to reduce its thickness and consequently increase its volumetric capacity.

X-ray nanotomography measurements carried out at beamline ID16B provided important microstructural details of the electrode-representative volumes (128 × 128 × 108 µm3 with 50 nm voxel size), along with statistical analysis of ~500 particles imaged in a single measurement. Data acquired on non-calendered and calendered pristine electrodes show that higher electrode density could be reached by calendering the electrode, without considerably affecting the active material accessibility through diffusion in the pore network. Despite the considerable morphological changes, no clear agglomerate fractures were observed, and particle integrity was preserved as individual agglomerate particles could still be distinguished. This highlights the fact that structural integrity is maintained from the electrode scale down to the particle level, and that the calendering process does not compromise the electrochemical performance.

Read more on ESRF website

Image: lectrode and particle porosity evolution with calendering in terms of (a) pore volume fraction and (b-e) microstructure. 3D rendering views of the (b) non-calendered and (c) calendered electrodes and (d,e) corresponding isolated graphite aggregated particles (with cross-section images).

International Day of Light #LightSourceSelfie special from the SLS

A community driven by curiosity!

To celebrate International Day of Light 2023, we bring you a #LightSourceSelfies special (see below) from Ludmila Leroy, a postdoc at the Swiss Light Source (SLS), which is located at the Paul Scherrer Institut (PSI) in Villigen, Switzerland. With an energy of 2.4 GeV, the SLS provides photon beams of high brightness for research in materials science, biology and chemistry.

Ludmila, who is from Brazil, is studying the properties of magnetic materials. She highlights the versatility of light sources as hugely advantageous to science and learning from, and about, nature. “We are all driven by curiosity and these versatile facilities gives us the ability to try different approaches and push the boundaries in our experiments.” Looking back on her career to date, Ludmila would advise her younger self “not to be scared to reach out for the world” as there are many light sources facilities around the globe and travelling to different countries is an exciting part of being a scientist.

As with all light sources, the SLS operates around the clock and Ludmila has a new take on making night shifts more bearable. Throughout the #LightSourceSelfie campaign, most participants have mentioned coffee, chocolate or candy when talking about night shift survival strategies. For Ludmila, night shifts are more bearable when she eats healthily and makes sure that she keeps hydrated.

And when she is not at a light source….Ludmila is in charge of the Music Club at PSI, which brings together a mixture of PhD students, postdocs, technicians and staff scientists. The PSIchedelics is just one of the society’s musical entertainment offerings. Ludmila plays the bass and sings in this band and her #LightSourceSelfie ends with a fantastic clip of them in action. You can find out more about music at PSI here: Music at PSI | Our Research | Paul Scherrer Institut (PSI)

Bright Expectations! Book you place on our virtual early career event

Join us as we celebrate International Day of Light with a special Early Career event

You are warmly invited to register for our 2023 virtual panel discussion……. 
Bright Expectations: Insights from scientists working at 4th Generation Light Sources
Date: Tuesday 16th May 2023
Time: 09:00 PDT/17:00 BST/18:00 CEST (1 hour event)
Location: Virtual event – click here to register 

Details: An opportunity to learn what it is like to work at a 4th generation light source directly from scientists from around the world. This interactive session will include short talks from the panellists on the facility they work at and their current roles. Ashley White, our moderator, will then pose questions to the panel on their career journeys, their views on the advantages and potential of 4th generation lights sources, potential breakthroughs on the horizon and more….
There will then be an opportunity for the audience to ask questions. If you would like to submit a question in advance, please send it to Silvana Westbury, Project Manager at

Our participants

Welcome: Sandra Ribeiro, Chair of and Communications Advisor at the Canadian Light Source (CLS) at the University of Saskatchewan in Canada  

Moderator: Ashley White, Director of Communications Interim Deputy for Strategy, Advanced Light Source (ALS), Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in California, USA

Panel members:

Monika Bjelcic, PhD Student at the MicroMAX beamline at MAX IV in Lund, Sweden

Georgi, Dakovski, Lead Scientist at the Linac Coherent Light Source (LCLS) at SLAC in California, USA

Graziela Sedenho, Academic user working on biocatalysis at Sirius, the Brazilian synchrotron light source in Campinas (SP) in Brazil

4th panel member to be confirmed

About International Day of Light 

Light plays a central role in our lives. On the most fundamental level, through photosynthesis, light is at the origin of life itself. The study of light has led to promising alternative energy sources, lifesaving medical advances in diagnostics technology and treatments, light-speed internet and many other discoveries that have revolutionized society and shaped our understanding of the universe.
The International Day of Light (IDL) is celebrated on 16 May each year, the anniversary of the first successful operation of the laser in 1960 by physicist and engineer, Theodore Maiman. This day is a call to strengthen scientific cooperation and harness its potential to foster peace and sustainable development.
The International Day of Light celebrates the role light plays in science, culture and art, education, and sustainable development, and in fields as diverse as medicine, communications, and energy. The celebration will allow many different sectors of society worldwide to participate in activities that demonstrates how science, technology, art and culture can help achieve the goals of UNESCO – building the foundation for peaceful societies.

>Read more on the UNESCO website

>Explore all the events for the next International Day of Light in 2023

Ancient fluid in quartz provides key to finding new uranium deposits

Saskatchewan’s Athabasca Basin is home to some of the world’s largest and richest uranium deposits, but it can still be tricky to find them.

Researchers at the University of Regina are studying how the deposits formed more than 1.5 billion years ago to help figure out the best places to look.

“We’re trying to understand the geological factors that control the formation of these deposits so that we know what features we should be looking for to find more uranium resources,” said Dr. Guoxiang Chi, a geologist at the University of Regina.

Chi, his Ph.D. student, Morteza Rabiei, and colleagues used the Canadian Light Source (CLS) at the University of Saskatchewan to analyze samples of quartz from areas known to contain uranium and nearby barren regions, the quartz having formed at the same time as the Athabascan uranium ore. They sliced the quartz into thin sections and studied the tiny droplets of primordial fluid trapped inside. It was from this fluid, circulating through geological fault lines billions of years ago, that today’s uranium ore formed. “By getting information about this paleo-fluid and seeing how it is distributed we can infer where the original uranium came from and what factors control its deposition,” said Chi. Understanding the conditions under which uranium ore is likely to form can help mining companies know where to look.

The results, however, were more complex than expected, he said. Fluid from ore-bearing areas had high levels of uranium, as expected, but so did the fluid from areas with no uranium ore. On the one hand, that is good news as it means that the uranium-rich fluid is more pervasive than first thought, but it also complicates the search for new deposits.

“We were hoping to see a major difference, but found uranium-rich fluid in both places,” he said. “So, if we want to use it as a guide to locate ore, we’ll have to understand the other factors that control deposition.” Chi said those other factors likely involve reducing agents that allow precipitation of the oxidized uranium in the fluid. “Without a reducing agent, you can’t have ore.”

Read more on CLS website

X-rays look at nuclear fuel cladding with new detail

Micro-beam measurements at the Swiss Light Source SLS have enabled insights into the crystal structure of hydrides that promote cracks in nuclear fuel cladding. This fundamental knowledge of the material properties of cladding will help assess safety during storage.

For over seventy years, zirconium alloys have been used as cladding for nuclear fuel rods. This cladding provides a structural support for the nuclear fuel pellets and an initial barrier to stop fission products escaping into the reactor water during operation. During its long history, which includes extensive research and development advances, reactor type zirconium alloys have proved themselves as an extremely successful material for this application.

Yet they have a well-known nemesis: hydrogen. When submerged in water during operation in a reactor, at the hot surface of the fuel rod water molecules split into hydrogen and oxygen. Some of this hydrogen then diffuses into the cladding. It makes its way through the cladding until – when the concentration and conditions are right – it precipitates to form chemical compounds known as zirconium-hydrides. These hydrides make the material brittle and prone to cracking. Now, using the Swiss Light Source SLS, researchers were able to shed new light on the interplay between cracking and hydride formation.

Using a technique called synchrotron micro-beam X-ray diffraction, the researchers could study the structure of hydrides during the growth of cracks in fuel cladding at a new level of detail. “Through thermomechanical tests, we could control extremely slow crack propagations. Discovering at such high spatial resolution which hydride formations actually occurred made all the challenges of the material preparation worthwhile,” says study first author, Aaron Colldeweih who designed the thermomechanical testing procedure as part of his PhD project at PSI.

One of the things they discovered was that an unexpected type of hydride was present at the crack tip. This type of hydride, known as gamma-hydride has a slightly different crystal structure and stoichiometry to the type more commonly present, known as delta-hydride, “There has been a lot of discussion about gamma-hydrides: whether they are stable and whether they exist at all. Here we could show that with certain applied stresses you create gamma-hydrides that are stable,” says Johannes Bertsch, who leads the Nuclear Fuels Group in the Laboratory of Nuclear Materials at PSI.

Read more on the PSI website

Image: Malgorzata Makowska, scientist at the MicroXAS beamline of the SLS, carefully positions a standard material for setup calibration on the sample manipulator in front of the X-ray beam.

Credit: Paul Scherrer Institute / Mahir Dzambegovic

Laura Heyderman elected Royal Society Fellow

Today, the announcement was made that Laura Heyderman, who leads the Mesoscopic Systems Group at PSI, has been elected Fellow of the Royal Society (FRS). Laura’s nomination recognises almost 30 years of research into magnetic materials and magnetism on the nanoscale, most notably, in the field of artificial spin ice.

Laura Heyderman is best known for her breakthroughs with nanomagnets – minute bar magnets that are a few hundreds of times smaller than the width of a human hair. Her research group, shared between Paul Scherrer Institute PSI and ETH Zurich where she became full professor in 2013, use these to create elaborate structures and devices. With the help of the large research infrastructures at PSI (X-rays, muons and neutrons) they then investigate the novel phenomena that they exhibit. The tiny magnetic systems they create can have a range of technological applications, such as for computation, communication, sensors or actuators.

Read more on the PSI website

Image: Laura Heyderman began working on magnetism as a PhD student investigating magnetic thin films in Paris in 1988. Today, she leads the Mesoscopic Systems Group, shared between PSI and ETH where she is a full professor.

Credit: ETH Zurich / Giulia Marthaler

Cement hydration in 4D: towards a reduction in emissions

Researchers led by the University of Málaga show the Portland cement early age hydration with microscopic detail and high contrast between the components. This knowledge may contribute to more environmentally friendly cements. The results are now published in Nature Communications.

Concrete is a fluid mass that strikingly sets and hardens in hours, even under water. This fabricated rock, which is made of cement, water, sand and gravel, is the basic building block of our civilization. Hence, it is not a surprise that it is the world’s largest manufactured commodity. The enormous production of Portland cement (PC), at 4 billion tonnes per year, results in 2.7 billion tonnes of CO2 emissions per year. If cement production were considered a country, it would be the third CO2 emitter in the world, just after China and USA. Therefore, reducing the CO2 footprint of cement, mortar and concrete is a societal need.

The main drawback of the current proposals for low-carbon cements is the slow hydration kinetics in the first 3 days. “Understanding the processes related to cement hydration as it takes place at its early stages is crucial”, explains Shiva Shirani, first author of the paper and PhD student at the University of Malaga. Despite a century of research, our understanding of cement dissolution and precipitation processes at early ages is very limited. “So we have developed a methodology to get a full picture of the hydration of Portland cement”, she adds.

The team, which is led by the University of Málaga and includes the ESRF, the Paul Scherrer Institute PSI (Switzerland) and the University Grenoble Alpes (France), carried out a tomographic study in the laboratory for an initial characterisation, followed by phase-contrast microtomography experiments with synchrotron radiation to take data very quickly and in large sample volumes, and finally experiments at the nanometric scale, using synchrotron ptychotomography.

Read more on the ESRF website

Image: Scientists followed the hydration process of cement in its early stages

Credit: Shiva Shirani

Picking up good vibrations – of proteins – at CHESS

A new method for analyzing protein crystals – developed by Cornell researchers and given a funky two-part name – could open up applications for new drug discovery and other areas of biotechnology and biochemistry.

The development, outlined in a paper published March 3 in Nature Communications, provides researchers with the tools to interpret the once-discarded data from X-ray crystallography experiments – an essential method used to study the structures of proteins. This work, which builds on a study released in 2020, could lead to a better understanding of a protein’s movement, structure and overall function.

Protein crystallography produces bright spots, known as Bragg peaks, from the crystals, providing high-resolution information about the shape and structure of a protein. This process also captures blurry images – patterns and clouds related to the movement and vibrations of the proteins – hidden in the background of the Bragg peaks.

These background images are typically discarded, with priority given to the bright Bragg peak imagery that is more easily analyzed.

“We know that this pattern is related to the motion of the atoms of the protein, but we haven’t been able to use that information,” said lead author Steve Meisburger, Ph.D. ’14, a former postdoctoral researcher in the lab of Nozomi Ando, M.S. ’04, Ph.D. ’09, associate professor of chemistry and chemical biology in the College of Arts and Sciences. “The information is there, but we didn’t know how to use it.  Now we do.”

Meisburger worked closely with Ando to develop the robust workflow to decode the weak background signals from crystallography experiments called diffuse scattering. This allows researchers to analyze the total scattering from crystals, which depends on both the protein’s structure and the subtle blur of its movements.

Their two-part method – which the team dubbed GOODVIBES and DISCOBALL – simultaneously provides a high-resolution structure of the protein and information on its correlated atomic movements.

GOODVIBES analyzes the X-ray data by separating the movements – subtle vibrations – of the protein from other proteins that might be moving around it. DISCOBALL independently validates these movements for certain proteins directly from the data, allowing researchers to trust the results from GOODVIBES and understand what the protein might be doing.

Read more on CHESS website

Image: Meisburger, Case, & Ando (2020) Nat Commun 11, 1271

Undermining the foundations of bacterial resistance

Scientists from the University of Guelph have used the Canadian Light Source (CLS) at the University of Saskatchewan to better understand how several infectious bacteria, including E. coli., build a protective sugar-based barrier that helps cloak their cells.

Published in the Journal of Biological Chemistry, the Guelph research provides the very early steps toward new treatments for E. coli and a whole range of bacteria. Their particular focus is on strains of E. coli that cause urinary tract and bloodstream infections, particularly those that are antibiotic resistant.

The research is looking to understand the enzyme that many infectious bacteria use to build the foundations of their protective capsule. The capsule helps shield the bacterium from attack by the human immune system and exists in many clinically distinct variants.

Making vaccines or drugs that targets the capsule itself directly is impractical as such treatments would target only a few bacteria. Instead, the Guelph team is focused on a key enzyme that builds the capsule foundation. This foundation could serve as a common point of attack, allowing a single treatment for several key pathogens infecting humans and livestock.

“We are interested in the machinery that builds the bacterium’s protective layer,” said Dr. Chris Whitfield, Professor Emeritus in the Department of Molecular and Cellular Biology. “By understanding and targeting the machinery, we can render the pathogen unable to survive in the host”.

Read more on the Canadian Light Source website

Image : Matthew Kimber, Chris Whitfield, and enzyme

Micro-CT can take us back in time to the dawn of jaws

Synchrotron studies show fine details on the jaw of one of the earliest jawed vertebrates

Acanthothoracids are generally considered to be the most primitive placoderms, an ancient group of armoured fish that first appeared during the early Silurian period, approximately 440 million years ago, and went extinct during the Late Devonian, about 360 million years ago. Placoderms were among the earliest jawed vertebrates, and many features of their anatomy can still be seen in modern fish and other animals. During this period, the skeletons of many animals were comprised of cartilage, which doesn’t preserve as well as bone. As a result, our understanding of placoderms is largely gleaned from small pieces of incomplete skeletons. The structure of their jaws and jaw hinges is poorly understood. In work recently published in Royal Society Open Science, an international team of researchers used X-ray micro-computed tomography to examine a near-complete acanthothoracid upper jaw discovered in western Mongolia. Their results suggest jaw morphology was phylogenetically conserved across most placoderms, and bring a step closer to understanding the origin and evolution of jaws and teeth in vertebrates.

A Well-Preserved Jaw

More than 99% of living vertebrate species, including ourselves, are jawed vertebrates (gnathostomes). However, how and when jaws and teeth evolved remains a contentious issue. Studying the jaws of placoderms, and comparing them to other early jawed fishes, offers some clues as to what their ancestors – and, by extension, our ancestors – would have looked like. The discovery of a near-complete acanthothoracid upper jaw is therefore a significant find. Studying it, though, presents a challenge.

Dr Martin Brazeau from Imperial College, London explains,

Some of the oldest jawed fish fossils come from this particular location in Mongolia. We found a bed of rock there that is full of pieces of fish fossils. But there’s a problem with the way that they’re preserved. Normally a palaeontologist will either chip away the surrounding rock to expose a fossil, or etch out the bone to leave an impression, from which it’s possible to make a rubber peel. Unfortunately, neither of those techniques is very successful at this site.

Read more on the Diamond website

Image: Upper jaw complex in virtual three-dimensional rendering from synchrotron tomography

Elusive missing step in the final act of photosynthesis

After decades of effort and help from SLAC’s X-ray laser, scientists have finally seen the process by which nature creates the oxygen we breathe.

Photosynthesis plays a crucial role in shaping and sustaining life on Earth, yet many aspects of the process remain a mystery. One such mystery is how Photosystem II, a protein complex in plants, algae and cyanobacteria, harvests energy from sunlight and uses it to split water, producing the oxygen we breathe. Now researchers from the Department of Energy’s SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory and Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, together with collaborators from Uppsala University, Humboldt University, and other institutions have succeeded in cracking a key secret of Photosystem II.

Using SLAC’s Linac Coherent Light Source (LCLS) and the SPring-8 Angstrom Compact free electron LAser (SACLA) in Japan, they captured for the first time in atomic detail what happens in the final moments leading up to the release of breathable oxygen. The data reveal an intermediate reaction step that had not been observed before.

Find out more on the SLAC website

New catalyst twice as selective, could make chemical production cleaner and cheaper

An estimated 18 million tonnes of acetic acid are produced annually around the world for industrial applications like making paints, adhesives and coatings. Now, researchers from the University of Toronto (U of T) have demonstrated a new electrically powered catalyst that is twice as efficient as baseline materials at producing acetic acid. Their research has the added bonus of having a much smaller carbon footprint.

Catalysts are used to help convert raw materials into usable products, but the raw materials used to make acetic acid today are fossil fuel-based, meaning production can have negative environmental impacts. Here, the only inputs are CO2-derived CO, water and renewable electricity.

“In this project, I identified a strategy to design catalysts that might be extremely selective to a single chemical, meaning they produce more of the chemical you want, in this case acetic acid, and much less of the by-product chemicals you don’t want,” says Joshua Wicks, a doctoral student in Professor Edward Sargent’s research group at UofT.

“In our lab, we are very interested in the decarbonization of chemicals production and we’re always searching for promising opportunities to apply electrochemistry in this hard-to-decarbonize sector of the economy.”

Read more on the Canadian Light Source website

Image : Panos Papangelakis setting up in-situ XAS experiments

Examining written artefacts with x-rays

DESY and the Cluster of Excellence ‘Understanding Written Artefacts’ are jointly breaking new ground in the material analysis of historical written artefacts

Within a new cooperation between the Cluster of Excellence ‘Understanding Written Artefacts’ (UWA) at Universität Hamburg and the German Electron Synchrotron DESY, scientists from Hamburg are now investigating historical written artefacts at the X-ray radiation source PETRA III. The prominent advantage of X-ray investigations is that the artefacts can be examined without any destruction. As far as the examination method allows, no special sample preparation is required – the precious and unique objects thus remain intact.

Currently, there are two pilot studies underway. The first study deals with Mesopotamian cuneiform tablets. These millennia-old artefacts are an essential source for understanding this ancient, advanced civilization. However, many tablets that cannot be dated and originated are of limited value for research. DESY and UWA are investigating 36 objects from the Museum für Kunst und Gewerbe (MKG) and the Hamburg State and University Library (SUB) collections to understand the context of the origin of a tablet by analyzing the nature of the clay. The powder diffraction method was chosen for the non-destructive and basic material characterization of this investigation. In this method, all mineral grains are detected by the X-ray beam in a local area, and these thus contribute to a characteristic diffraction pattern for a specific part of the clay tablet. The diffraction pattern consists of individual diffraction reflections for each contained mineral and gives atomic-level information about the crystalline structure. With suitable software, the mineral components can be analyzed, and thus an insight into the atomic structure – as well as the quantitative composition – of these minerals can be obtained.

Read more on the DESY website

Image: A tsakali during the experiment

Credit: DESY, Marta mayer