Construction starts on new Cryo-EM center

Called the Laboratory of BioMolecular Structure, the new cryo-electron microscope center will offer world-leading imaging capabilities for life sciences research.

Today, the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Brookhaven National Laboratory broke ground on the Laboratory of BioMolecular Structure (LBMS), a state-of-the-art research center for life science imaging. At the heart of the center will be two new NY-State-funded cryo-electron microscopes (cryo-EM) specialized for studying biomaterials, such as complex protein structures.

“Cryo-electron microscopy is a rapidly-advancing imaging technique that is posting impressive results on a weekly basis,” said LBMS Director Sean McSweeney. “The mission of LBMS is to advance the scientific understanding of key biological processes and fundamental molecular structures.”

“Throughout my career, I have worked hard to make our region of the State a high-tech hub, bringing together the talents and expertise of scientists and facilities across Long Island.  I am pleased to have played a part in the creation of the new cryo-EM center, which will add to the incredible facilities at Brookhaven National Lab and enable our scientific community to lead the way in world-class imaging research and discovery,” said NY State Senator Ken LaValle.

>Read more on the NSLS-II at BNL website

Image: New York State Senator Ken LaValle joined leaders of Empire State Development and Brookhaven Lab for the LBMS groundbreaking ceremony. Pictured from left to right are Jim Misewich (Associate Laboratory Director for Energy and Photon Sciences, Brookhaven Lab), Erik Johnson (NSLS-II Deputy for Construction), Sean McSweeney (LBMS Director and NSLS-II Structural Biology Program Manager), Robert Gordon (DOE-Brookhaven Site Office Manager), Ken LaValle, Cara Longworth (Regional Director, Empire State Development), Danah Alexander (Senior Project Manager, Empire State Development), and John Hill (NSLS-II Director).

Secrets of the deadly white-tail virus revealed

The inner workings of a lethal giant freshwater prawn virus have been revealed by an international team of researchers using data gathered at Diamond Light Source. The results reveal a possible new class of virus and presents the prospect of tackling a disease that can devastate prawn farms around the world.

The detailed structure of a virus that can devastate valuable freshwater prawn fisheries has been revealed by an international team using image data collected in the Electron Bio-Imaging Centre (eBIC) based at Diamond Light Source. The researchers produced high-resolution images of virus like particles, VLP’s, composed of virus shell proteins which they compared with lower resolution images of the complete virus purified from prawn larvae. They found strong similarities between the two suggesting that the more detailed VLP images are a good representation of the intact virus. This research, exposing the inner workings of the MrNV, could make it easier to develop ways of combating the economically important disease, but also suggests that it belongs in a new, separate, group of nodaviruses.
The researchers used the rapidly developing technique of cryo-electron microscopy, cryoEM, which has the ability to produce very high-resolution images of frozen virus particles. Images so detailed that the positions of individual atoms could be inferred. Recent breakthroughs in this technique have transformed the study of relatively large biological complexes like viruses allowing researchers to determine their structures comparatively quickly. The data to produce the MrNV structure described here was captured in two days at the eBIC facility.

>Read more on the Diamond Light Source website

Image: 3D model of the MrNV
Credit: Dr David Bhella

Progress on low energy electronics

Soft X-ray experiments used to characterise new thin film topological Dirac Semimetal

A large international collaboration including scientists from Monash University, the ARC Centre for Future Low Energy Electronics (FLEET), the Monash Centre for Anatomically Thin Materials and the Australian Synchrotron reported today in Nature on the development of an advanced material that is able to switch between an electrically conductive state to an insulating state, simply by applying an electric field.
The work represents a step towards the development of a new generation of ultra-low energy electronics at room temperature. 
Co-author Dr Anton Tadich, a beamline scientist at the Soft X-ray beamline and Partner Investigator with FLEET, collaborated with investigators from Monash University, Singapore and Lawrence Berkeley National Lab on the use of photoemission techniques at the Australian Synchrotron X-ray Photoelectron Spectroscopy (XPS) and the Advanced Light Source in the US Angle Resolved Photoelectron Spectroscopy, (ARPES).
The chemical composition and growth mechanisms of thin films of the topological Dirac semi-metal sodium bismuthide Na3Bi on a silicon substrate was investigated using XPS at the Australian Synchrotron’s Soft X-ray beamline.

>Read more on the Australian Synchrotron at ANSTO website

Topological matters: toward a new kind of transistor

X-ray experiments at Berkeley Lab provide first demonstration of room temperature switching in ultrathin material that could serve as a ‘topological transistor’

Billions of tiny transistors supply the processing power in modern smartphones, controlling the flow of electrons with rapid on-and-off switching. But continual progress in packing more transistors into smaller devices is pushing toward the physical limits of conventional materials. Common inefficiencies in transistor materials cause energy loss that results in heat buildup and shorter battery life, so researchers are in hot pursuit of alternative materials that allow devices to operate more efficiently at lower power.
Now, an experiment conducted at the U.S. Department of Energy’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab) has demonstrated, for the first time, electronic switching in an exotic, ultrathin material that can carry a charge with nearly zero loss at room temperature. Researchers demonstrated this switching when subjecting the material to a low-current electric field.

>Read more on Advanced Light Source (ALS) at LBNL website

Image: James Collins, a researcher at Monash University in Australia, works on an experiment at Beamline 10.0.1, part of Berkeley Lab’s Advanced Light Source.
Credit: Marilyn Chung/Berkeley Lab

No beam for a while. #SeeUin2020

The 10th December 2018, marks a key date in the history of the ESRF.

Thirty years after the signature of the ESRF Convention, the beam has been stopped for the last time in the original storage ring. Now begins a 20-month shutdown to dismantle the storage ring that has served the international scientific community with bright and reliable X-rays for the last 30 years, to make way for a new and revolutionary X-ray source, the Extremely Brilliant Source (EBS) which will open to users in 2020.

Today, the EBS project is officially entering a new stage, which is the fruit of our hard work of the last four years. Our imagination, engineering design, quality control and assembly, guided by strict project management, has made it possible to start the swap in our tunnel between the old and the new storage ring. This is possible thanks to the great capability of ESRF staff”, said Francesco Sette, ESRF Director General.

>Read more on the ESRF website

Two more experiment stations start user operation

Facility double experiment capacity.

Two additional experiment stations—or instruments—have now started operation at European XFEL. The instruments for Small Quantum Systems (SQS) and Spectroscopy and Coherent Scattering (SCS) welcomed their first user groups for experiments last week and this week respectively. With the successful start of operation of the new instruments, European XFEL has now doubled its capacity to conduct research. With the first three groups coming to the new instruments in 2018, the total number of users who will have visited the facility in 2018 will reach over 500.
The two already operational instruments, SPB/SFX and FXE, have been used to examine biomolecules or biological processes and ultrafast reactions respectively since September 2017. In the future, two of the four now operational instruments will be run in parallel in twelve hour shifts. Two more instruments are scheduled to start user operation in the first half of 2019.

>Read more on the European XFEL website

Image: Scientists at the SQS instrument.
Credit: European XFEL / Jan Hosan

Photocathodes with high quantum efficiency at bERLinPro

A team at the HZB has improved the manufacturing process of photocathodes and can now provide photocathodes with high quantum efficiency for bERLinPro.

Teams from the accelerator physics and the SRF groups at HZB are developing a superconducting linear accelerator featuring energy recovery (Energy Recovery Linac) as part of the bERLinPro project. It accelerates an intense electron beam that can then be used for various applications – such as generating brilliant synchrotron radiation. After use, the electron bunches are directed back to the superconducting linear accelerator, where they release almost all their remaining energy. This energy is then available for accelerating new electron bunches.

Electron source: photocathode

A crucial component of the design is the electron source. Electrons are generated by illuminating a photocathode with a green laser beam. The quantum efficiency, as it is referred to, indicates how many electrons the photocathode material emits when illuminated at a certain laser wavelength and power. Bialkali antimonides exhibit particularly high quantum efficiency in the region of visible light. However, thin films of these materials are highly reactive and therefore very sensitive, so they only work at ultra-high vacuum.

>Read more on the Bessy II at HZB website

Image: Photocathode after its production in the preparatory system.
Credit: J. Kühn/HZB

Biological material discovered in Jurassic fossil

Ichthyosaurs were reptiles that roamed the Jurassic oceans 180 million years ago. They are extremely well studied and the form will probably be instantly recognisable from museums and textbooks. They resemble modern toothed whales such as dolphins and this similarity led researchers to hypothesise that the two creatures had similar strategies for survival in the marine environment. However, until now, there was little evidence to support this hypothesis. The research team led by Lund researcher Johan Lindgren went on the search for biological material within fossils to help solve this puzzle. After a lot of preparation in the lab and traveling around the world to perform experiments, they discovered that the fossil contained remnants of smooth skin and subcutaneous blubber. This is compelling evidence that the Ichthyosaurs were indeed warm-blooded and confirms the previous hypothesis. Lindgren showed visible delight when he described how you could see that the 180-million-year-old blubber was indeed visibly flexible after treatment in his laboratory.

>Read more on the MAX IV Laboratory website

Image: MAX IV’s Anders Engdahl was part of a team that published a landmark study about biological tissue found in a Jurassic fossil. The work published this week in Nature is one of the most comprehensive studies of its kind and sheds new light on the life of a prehistoric sea creature.

Tunable ferromagnetism in a 2D material at room temperature

Breakthroughs in next-generation spintronic logic and memory devices could hinge on our ability to control spin behavior in two-dimensional materials—stacks of ultrathin layers held together by relatively weak electrostatic (van der Waals) forces. The reduced dimensionality of these so-called “van der Waals materials” often leads to tunable electronic and magnetic properties, including intrinsic ferromagnetism. However, it remains a challenge to tune this ferromagnetism (e.g. spin orientation, magnetic domain phase, and magnetic long-range order) at ambient temperatures.

In this work, researchers performed a study of Fe3GeTe2, a van der Waals material that consists of Fe3Ge layers alternating with two Te layers. The material’s magnetic properties were characterized using a variety of techniques, including x-ray absorption spectroscopy (XAS) with x-ray magnetic circular dichroism (XMCD) contrast at Beamline 6.3.1 and photoemission electron microscopy (PEEM) at Beamline 11.0.1.

>Read more on the Advanced Light Source (ALS) at LBNL website

Image: PEEM images for unpatterned and patterned Fe3GeTe2 samples at 110 K and 300 K. The unpatterned samples formed stripe domains at 110 K, which disappeared at 300 K. The patterned samples formed out-of-plane stripe domains at 110 K and transitioned to in-plane vortex states at 300 K, demonstrating control over magnetism at room temperature and beyond.

Capturing the strongest X-ray beam on Earth

First images of the European XFEL beam

At European XFEL scientists use intense X-rays to take pictures of the smallest particles imaginable. The European XFEL X-ray beam is a billion times brighter than other traditional X-ray sources, but since X-rays are invisible to the naked eye, it is not usually possible to see the X-ray beam. Working together with a professional photographer, scientists at the largest X-ray laser in the world located in Schenefeld near Hamburg, have now managed to capture an image of the intense European XFEL X-ray beam. The pictures were taken as the X-ray beam entered the experiment area in the FXE instrument hutch at the end of a journey that started in a 3.4km long underground tunnel.

On the images published today, the X-ray beam appears as a thin blue stripe. What we are actually seeing, however, is glowing nitrogen molecules which the X-ray beam has caused to light up as it travels through the air thereby interacting with the molecules.

>Read more on the European XFEL website

Image: The European XFEL beam.
Credit: European XFEL

Improving lithium-ion battery capacity

Toward cost-effective solutions for next-generation consumer electronics, electric vehicles and power grids.

The search for a better lithium-ion battery—one that could keep a cell phone working for days, increase the range of electric cars and maximize energy storage on a grid—is an ongoing quest, but a recent study done by Canadian Light Source (CLS) scientists with the National Research Council of Canada (NRC) showed that the answer can be found in chemistry.
“People have tried everything at an engineering level to improve batteries,” said Dr. Yaser Abu-Lebdeh, a senior research officer at the NRC, “but to improve their capacity, you have to play with the chemistry of the materials.”

>Read more on the Canadian Light Source website

Image: The decomposition of a polyvinylidene fluoride (PVDF) binder in a high energy battery.
Credit: Jigang Zhou

ESRF celebrates 30 years of science, 30 years of international collaboration

The ESRF celebrates its 30th anniversary in the presence of the representatives of its 22 partner countries. This event looks back at ESRF’s scientific accomplishments but also on the role that the ESRF has played in fostering peaceful cross-border collaboration in Europe and beyond.

“Congratulations on 30 years of success; here is to 30 more to come,” said Carlos Moedas, European Commissioner for Research, Science and Innovation, in a video message.

“ESRF is a shining example of what can be achieved when people of different nationalities and cultures come together to pursue a common goal, to push back the frontiers of science,” said ESRF Director General Francesco Sette. “In drawing up the ESRF Convention, back in 1988, the ESRF’s founding fathers established a unique model for scientific and technological excellence. Today, with 22 partner countries, and by bringing together scientists from all over the world, the ESRF continues to demonstrate how science unites nations and contributes to addressing complex global challenges facing our society.”

2018 holds a particular significance for the ESRF as the facility celebrates its 30th anniversary. In 1988, 11 countries joined forces to create the first third-generation synchrotron light source: a dream became a reality. Thirty years later, the ESRF has broken records for the brilliance and stability of its X-ray beams, for its scientific output (over 32 000 publications, i.e., around 2 000 publications per year during the last ten years, and four Nobel prize laureates), and for the strength of its community of users (about 10 000 scientific visits per year with users from 50 different countries).

>Read more on the European Synchrotron (ESRF) website


PHELIX beamline – undulator installation and hutch construction

The PHELIX beamline construction continues. In October 2018 the light source for the beamline – an undulator – was installed in the storage ring. In November construction of the an optical hutch ended.

The hutch will protect people from radiation hazards. In the near future it will house the first optical components of the beamline.
The next planned steps are the installation of the front-end, i.e. the part of the beamline situated in the storage ring tunnel after the source (January 2019), the installation of the beamline with optical components for X-rays (February-March 2019) and the installation of the end-station (May-June 2019).

The PHELIX beamline will use soft X-rays. Its end station will enable a wide range of spectroscopic and absorption studies characterized by different surface sensitivity. In addition to collecting standard high-resolution spectra, it will allow, for example, to map the band structure in three dimensions and to detect electron spin in three dimensions. Users will, therefore, be able to conduct research on new materials, thin films and multilayers systems, catalysts and biomaterials, surface of bulk compounds, spin polarized surface states, as well as chemical reactions taking place on the surface.

>Read more on the SOLARIS website

Image credit: Agata Chrześcijanek

From Pakistan to Barcelona, from scientists to friends

Shamila Imtiaz and Sidra Ibadat happily describe their experience during their research internship at ALBA within the framework of the Open Sesame European project.

Shamila Imtiaz (31 years old, PhD candidate and Chemistry junior scientist at PINSTECH Islamabad) and Sidra Ibadat (25 years old, MS Physics Student at the International Islamic University Islamabad) happily describe their experience during their research internship at ALBA. They come from Pakistan and have been granted by the H2020 Open Sesame project to spend 8 weeks at our facility in order to widen their expertise in synchrotron-based Fourier Transform Infrared Microspectroscopy SR-FTIRM at the infrared beamline MIRAS. For both of them, this is their first experience in Europe and, apart from their scientific activity, they are enjoying their walks, their talks and taking care of Shamila’s 9-month old baby. Additionally, ALBA is “proud to help in the development of the scientific careers of young mothers here and elsewhere”, says Miguel Ángel García Aranda, ALBA Scientific Director

“The situation in Pakistan has greatly changed in the past years, there are more women than men in science studies but it’s not easy to find funding opportunities to continue with the studies”, says Sidra. “The Open Sesame project has been a great opportunity for us for visiting and seeing how a synchrotron light source works and bring back all this knowledge to our country”, according to Shamila. “Having access to more sophisticated tools that those in Pakistan can boost our research projects”, continues Sidra.

>Read more on the ALBA website

Light-activated, single- ion catalyst breaks down carbon dioxide

X-ray studies reveal structural details that may point the way to designing better catalysts for converting pollutant gas into useful products

A team of scientists has discovered a single-site, visible-light-activated catalyst that converts carbon dioxide (CO2) into “building block” molecules that could be used for creating useful chemicals. The discovery opens the possibility of using sunlight to turn a greenhouse gas into hydrocarbon fuels.

The scientists used the National Synchrotron Light Source II, a U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) Office of Science user facility at Brookhaven National Laboratory, to uncover details of the efficient reaction, which used a single ion of cobalt to help lower the energy barrier for breaking down CO2. The team describes this single-site catalyst in a paper just published in the Journal of the American Chemical Society.

Converting CO2 into simpler parts—carbon monoxide (CO) and oxygen—has valuable real-world applications. “By breaking CO2, we can kill two birds with one stone—remove CO2 from the atmosphere and make building blocks for making fuel,” said Anatoly Frenkel, a chemist with a joint appointment at Brookhaven Lab and Stony Brook University. Frenkel led the effort to understand the activity of the catalyst, which was made by Gonghu Li, a physical chemist at the University of New Hampshire.

>Read more on the NSLS-II at Brookhaven National Laboratory website

Image: National Synchrotron Light Source II (NSLS-II) QAS beamline scientist Steven Ehrlich, Stony Brook University (SBU) graduate student Jiahao Huang, and Brookhaven Lab-SBU joint appointee Anatoly Frenkel at the QAS beamline at NSLS-II.

HZB builds undulator for SESAME in Jordan

The Helmholtz-Zentrum Berlin is building an APPLE II undulator for the SESAME synchrotron light source in Jordan. The undulator will be used at the Helmholtz SESAME beamline (HESEB) that will be set up there by five Helmholtz Centres. The Helmholtz Association is investing 3.5 million euros in this project coordinated by DESY.
SESAME stands for “Synchrotron Light for Experimental Science and Applications in the Middle East” and provides brilliant X-ray light for research purposes. The third-generation synchrotron radiation source became operational in 2017. Egypt, Iran, Israel, Jordan, Pakistan, the Palestinian Authority, Turkey, and Cyprus are cooperating on this unique project to provide scientists from the Middle East with access to one of the most versatile tools for research.

New beamline for soft x-rays

Thus far, SESAME has four beamlines and will now receive a fifth meant to generate “soft” X-ray light in the energy range between 70 eV and 1800 eV. This X-ray light is particularly suitable for investigating surfaces and interfaces of various materials, for observing certain chemical and electronic processes, and for non-destructive analysis of cultural artefacts. The new beamline will be constructed as the Helmholtz SESAME Beamline (HESEB) by the Helmholtz Centres DESY (coordinating Centre), Forschungszentrum Jülich, Helmholtz-Zentrum Dresden-Rossendorf (HZDR), Helmholtz-Zentrum Berlin (HZB) as well as the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT).

>Read more on the Bessy II at HZB website

Image: The APPLE II UE56 double undulator generates brilliant light with variable polarization.
Credit: HZB