Illuminating Water Filtration

Researchers using ultrabright x-rays reveal the molecular structure of membranes used to purify seawater into drinking water.

For the first time, a team of researchers from Stony Brook University and the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Brookhaven National Laboratory have revealed the molecular structure of membranes used in reverse osmosis. The research is reported in a recently published paper in ACS Macro Letters, a journal of the American Chemical Society (ACS).
Reverse osmosis is the leading method of converting brackish water or seawater into potable or drinking water, and it is used to make about 25,000 million gallons of fresh water a day globally according to the International Water Association.
“Most of the earth’s water is in the oceans and only three percent is fresh water, so water purification is an essential tool to satisfy the increasing demand for drinking water,” said Brookhaven Lab senior scientist Benjamin Ocko. “Reverse osmosis is not a new technology; however, the molecular structure of many of the very thin polymer films that serve as the barrier layer in reverse osmosis membranes, despite its importance, was not previously known.”

>Read more on the NSLS-II website

Image: Qinyi Fu, Francisco J. Medellin-Rodriguez, Nisha Verma, and Benjamin Ocko (from left to right) prepare to mount the membrane samples that mimic the membranes used in reverse osmosis for the measurements in the Complex Materials Scattering (CMS) beamline at the National Synchrotron Light Source II (NSLS-II).

ALBA collaborates in the discovery of a new muscular disease: myoglobinopathy

An international collaboration led by IDIBELL identifies the first disease caused by a mutation in myoglobin.

At the MIRAS beamline of the ALBA Synchrotron they could demonstrate the presence of oxidized lipids in the damaged muscle cells.
Researchers of the Bellvitge Biomedical Research Institute (IDIBELL) led by Dr. Montse Olivé have described in Nature Communications a new muscular disease caused by a mutation in the myoglobin gene. The study has been possible thanks to a collaboration with a group of geneticists from the University of Western Australia (UWA), led by Prof. Nigel Laing, and researchers from the Karolinska Institute (Stockholm, Sweden).

Myoglobin, the protein that gives muscles their red colour, has as its main function the transportation and intracellular storage of oxygen, acting as an oxygen reservoir when there are low levels (hypoxia) or a total lack thereof (anoxia). It also acts as scavenger of free radicals and other reactive oxygen species, avoiding cell damage due to oxidative stress.

>Read more on the ALBA website

Image: Left, Typical μFTIR spectra and their second derivative of the muscle tissue where the lipid region has been highlighted in orange and the protein region in blue; the inset shows the lipid/protein ratio (calculated from the Infrared spectra) on an optical image of a tissue section with sarcoplasmic bodies. The color bar represents intensity of the ratio: blue and red mean low and high lipid content, respectively. The scale bar is 4 microns. Right,  Infrared second derivative spectrum of the amide region of one sarcoplasmic body (green) showing an increase of β-sheet structures indicating protein aggregation. Second derivative of the amide region corresponding to the tissue surrounding the sarcoplasmic bodies (black).

A new twist in soft x-ray beams

Light waves, when generated a certain way, can exert twisting forces on matter. In the visible-light regime, such beams have been used as “optical tweezers” to trap and manipulate tiny particles (like a tractor beam) or to detect rotational motion in targets. Now, the ability to generate beams with a specific type of rotational character, known as orbital angular momentum (OAM), has been extended to the soft x-ray regime. The work lays the foundation for a new type of soft x-ray contrast mechanism that could provide access to previously hidden material properties.
In a recently published Nature Photonics paper, researchers from the Advanced Light Source (ALS) and the University of Oregon reported on the fabrication and testing of specialized diffraction gratings that, when placed in the coherent light of ALS Beamline 12.0.2, produce OAM soft x-ray beams of exceptionally high quality.

>Read more on the Advanced Light Source website

Image: A  flower-like interference pattern generated by a special diffraction grating that superposes two different orbital angular momentum (OAM) modes on a soft x-ray beam.

Godehard Wüstefeld receives the Horst Klein Research Prize

The physicist Dr. Godehard Wüstefeld was awarded the Horst Klein Research Prize at the annual conference of the German Physical Society.

The award recognizes his outstanding scientific achievements in accelerator physics in the development of BESSY II and BESSY VSR.
Over the last thirty years, Dr. Godehard Wüstefeld has made decisive contributions to the further development of storage-ring-based synchrotron radiation sources. Thanks to its innovative concepts, the performance and application areas of storage rings have been consistently expanded. Wüstefeld participated in the development of BESSY II and the Metrology Light Source and implemented several innovations there.

>Read more on the BESSY II at Helmholtz-Zentrum Berlin website

Image: Dr. Godehard Wüstefeld was awarded the Horst Klein Research Prize.
Credit: DPG

In-gap states and band-like transport in memristive devices

The creation of point defects in matter can profoundly affect the physical and chemical properties of materials. If appropriately controlled, these modifications can be exploited in applications promising advanced and novel functionalities. Redox-based memristive devices – one of the most attractive emerging memory technologies – provide one of the most striking examples for the potential exploitation of defects. Applying an external electric field to an initially insulating oxide layer is known to induce a non-volatile, voltage-history dependent switching between a low resistance state and a high resistance state, also named memristive device. This switching occurs through the creation and annihilation of the so-called conductive filaments, which are generated at the nanoscale by assembly of donor-type point defects such as oxygen vacancies.
To date, the exact relationship between concentration and nanoscale distribution of defects within the filament on the one hand and the electronic transport properties of the devices on the other hand is still elusive. Due to limitations in sensitivity or spatial resolution of most characterization methods, the electronic structure of conductive filaments has not yet been characterized in detail. However, this knowledge is crucially needed as input for the development of electronic transport models with high predictive power.

>Read more on the Elettra website

Image: (a) Ti3+ map based on the Ti 3p3/2 spectrum. (b) Ti 2p 3/2 spectra for the filament and the surrounding. (c) Spatial map of the in-gap state distribution. (d) Valence band spectrum extracted from the filament at a photon energy of 463.3 eV with a fit of the valence band maximum and the in-gap states (red lines). (e) Band diagram of the device calculated based on the position of the in-gap states. The blue line shows the conduction band and the dashed green lines shows position of the defect states obtained by PEEM in respect to the conduction band 

New possibilities against the HIV epidemic

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

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

>Read more on the Brazilian Synchrotron Light Laboratory website

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

HIPPIE provides a closer look at water filtration

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

>Read more on the MAX IV Laboratory website

Absorber captures excess chemotherapy drugs

The work opens up a new route to fighting cancer that minimizes drug toxicity and enables personalized, targeted, high-dose chemotherapy.

Most anticancer drugs are poisonous, so doctors walk a delicate line when administering chemotherapy. A dose must be sufficient to kill or stop the growth of cancer cells in the target organ, but not high enough to irreparably damage a patient’s other organs. To avoid this, doctors can thread catheters through the bloodstream to deliver chemotherapy drugs directly to the site of the tumor—a method known as intra-arterial chemotherapy. Still, typically more than half of the dose injected into the body escapes the target organ. Several years ago, researchers began working on a major improvement: placing a device “downstream” of the targeted organ to filter out excess chemo so that much less of the drug reaches the body as a whole.

>Read more on the Advanced Light Source

Image: (extract, see here the full image)
(a) Diagram of the proposed approach for drug capture using a 3D-printed cylindrical absorber. (b) Chemical structure of doxorubicin, the chemotherapy drug used in this study. (c) Schematic of the endovascular treatment of liver cancer. Excess drug molecules are captured by the absorber in the vein draining the organ. An introducer sheath guides the absorber to the desired location via a guide wire.

Optical ​“tweezers” combine with X-rays to enable analysis of crystals in liquids

Understanding how chemical reactions happen on tiny crystals in liquid solutions is central to a variety of fields, including materials synthesis and heterogeneous catalysis, but obtaining such an understanding requires that scientists observe reactions as they occur.

By using coherent X-ray diffraction techniques, scientists can measure the exterior shape of and strain in nanocrystalline materials with a high degree of precision. However, carrying out such measurements requires precise control of the position and angles of the tiny crystal with respect to the incoming X-ray beam. Traditionally, this has meant adhering or gluing the crystal to a surface, which in turn strains the crystal, thus altering its structure and potentially affecting reactivity.

>Read more on the Advanced Photon Source at Argonne Laboratory website

Image: Scientists have found a way to use “optical tweezers” by employing lasers, a mirror and a light modulator to anchor a crystal in solution. The “tweezers” have made it possible to conduct X-ray diffraction measurements of a crystal suspended in solution.
Credit: Robert Horn/Argonne National Laboratory.

SESAME hosts BEATS kick-off meeting

The kick-off meeting of the BEAmline for Tomography at SESAME (BEATS) project, was held in Allan, Jordan and hosted by SESAME on the 12th and 13th March 2019. BEATS is an EU funded project with the objective to design, procure, construct and commission a facility for hard X-ray full-field tomography at the SESAME synchrotron. The European grant is worth 6 million euros and will span a four-year period from beginning 2019 to end 2022 and is funded by the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under grant agreement n°822535.

>Read more on the SESAME website

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

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

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

>Read more on the ALS at Berkeley Lab website

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

Students use AI for sample positioning at BioMAX

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

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

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

>Read more on the MAX IV Laboratory website

First electron beam loops around Sirius’ booster

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

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

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

Image: Sirius in Campinas (Brazil).

Low background noise crucial for single particle imaging experiments

Model experiment brings scientists a step closer to SPI at European XFEL

Taking snapshots of single molecules with X-rays has long been a dream for many scientists. Such experiments have successfully been computationally modelled, but have never been practically demonstrated before.
In a model experiment carried out at the European Synchrotron Radiation Facility (ESRF), European XFEL scientists, together with international collaborators, have now come one step closer to successfully carrying out so-called single particle imaging experiments (SPI) at X-ray laser facilities such as European XFEL. In a paper published today in the journal from the International Union of Crystallography (IUCrJ), scientists demonstrate experimentally that, in principle, a 3D structure can indeed be obtained from many tens of thousands of very weak images, using X-rays with similar properties as produced at X-ray free-electron lasers such as European XFEL.

>Read more on the European XFEL website

Image: Reconstruction of the 3D electron density. (a) Reconstruction from the result derived by EMC. The electron density projected along an axis perpendicular to the drawing plane is shown here. (b) Reconstruction from the reference Fourier volume. Again, the projected electron density is shown. (c) 3D iso-surface rendering of the reconstructed electron density shown in panel (a). The threshold of the iso-surface has been set to 0.2, given a normalized density with values between 0 and 1. (d) Scanning electron micrograph from the original sample.
Image source

ESRF installs first components of new Extremely Brilliant Source

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

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

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

>Read more on the European Synchrotron website

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

Reversible lattice-oxygen reactions in batteries

The results open up new ways to explore how to pack more energy into batteries with electrodes made out of low-cost, common materials.

For a wide range of applications, from mobile phones to electric vehicles, the reversibility and cyclability of the chemical reactions occurring inside a rechargeable battery are key to commercial viability. Conventional wisdom had held that involving oxygen in a battery’s electrochemical operation spontaneously triggers irreversible oxygen losses and parasitic surface reactions, reducing reversibility and safety. Recently however, the idea emerged that reactions involving lattice oxygen (i.e., oxygen that’s part of the crystal-lattice structure vs oxygen on the surface) could be useful for improving battery capacity. Here, researchers report the first direct quantification of a strong, beneficial, and highly reversible chemical reaction involving lattice oxygen in electrodes made with low-cost elements.

>Read more on the Advanced Light Source

Image: Advanced spectroscopy at the ALS clearly resolves the activities of cations and anions (known in Chinese as “yin” and “yang” ions) in battery electrodes.