Scientists discover new forms of feldspars

High-pressure experiments reveal unknown variants of common mineral

In high-pressure experiments, scientists have discovered new forms of the common mineral feldspar. At moderate temperatures, these hitherto unknown variants are stable at pressures of Earth’s upper mantle, where common feldspar normally cannot exist. The discovery could change the view at cold subducting plates and the interpretation of seismologic signatures, as the team around DESY scientist Anna Pakhomova and Leonid Dubrovinsky from Bayerisches Geoinstitut in Bayreuth report in the journal Nature Communications.Feldspars represent a group of rock forming minerals that are highly abundant on Earth and make up roughly 60 per cent of Earth’s crust. The most common feldspars are anorthite, (CaSi2Al2O8), albite (NaAlSi3O8), and microcline (KAlSi3O8). At ambient conditions, the aluminium and silicon atoms in the crystal are each bonded to four oxygen atoms, forming AlOand SiO4 tetrahedra.

Read more on the DESY website

Image : The crystal structure of the feldspar anorthite under normal conditions (left) and the newly discovered high-pressure variant (right). Under normal conditions, the silicon and aluminium atoms form tetrahedra (yellow and blue) with four oxygen atoms each (red). Under high pressure polyhedra with five and six oxygen atoms are formed. Calcium atoms (grey) lie in between. The black lines outline the so-called unit cell, the smallest unit of a crystal lattice. 

Credit : DESY, Anna Pakhomova

Using state-of-the-art nanocarriers to beat bacterial resistance

Novel stabiliser-free cubosomes can transport antimicrobial peptides and promote wound healing

In 2018, in England alone, there were an estimated 61,000 antibiotic resistant infections – a 9% rise on the previous year. Infections that don’t respond to antibiotics have the potential to cause bloodstream infections and may require patients to be admitted to hospital. The numbers of antibiotic-resistant bloodstream infections rose by a third between 2014 and 2018. The rise in antibiotic-resistant bacteria is a growing concern worldwide, prompting a search for new antibiotics and alternative strategies for fighting bacteria. One promising approach is the design of lipid-based antimicrobial nanocarriers. However, most of the polymer-stabilised nanocarriers are cytotoxic. In work recently published in  Advanced Functional Materials,  a team of Swiss researchers designed a novel, stabiliser-free nanocarrier for the antimicrobial peptide LL-37 that also promotes wound healing. They demonstrated that stabiliser-free cubosomes show promise as advanced cytocompatible nanovehicles for nutrient and drug delivery. 

Vertebrates have two main immune strategies. In simple terms, the adaptive (or acquired) immune system responds to specific pathogens by producing antibodies. The innate immune system is older (in evolutionary terms) and is found in all kinds of life, from plants and fungi to insects and multicellular organisms. The innate immune system makes use of less specific defence mechanisms, including physical barriers (such as skin or bark), clotting factors in blood or sap, and specialised cells that attack foreign substances. 

Read more on the Diamond Light Source website

Image : Graphical representation of a cubosome. The coloured surface resembles the lipid-water interface with the confined water channels. The channel diameter is typically in the range of 10 nanometres, with the overall size of the cubosomes being several hundred nanometres.

Faster diagnosis of esophageal cancer

Scientists from SOLARIS National Synchrotron Radiation Centre (Kraków, Poland), University of Exeter (UK), Beckman Institute (University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign – USA), and Institute of Nuclear Physics Polish Academy of Sciences (Kraków, Poland) performed research that will facilitate the rapid and automated diagnosis of esophageal cancer.

Dr. Tomasz Wróbel`s group focuses on cancer detection through a combination of Infrared Imaging (IR) and the use of Machine Learning (ML) algorithms. Thanks to this approach, it is possible to develop an effective model, which will allow histopathologists to confirm the diseased area automatically and in a much shorter time.

Infrared Imaging (IR), which will soon also be available on the newly built beamline at SOLARIS, has found widespread use in biomedical research over the last couple of decades and is currently being introduced into clinical diagnostics.

Read more on the Solaris website

Image: The above graphic shows two esophageal biopsies: the top of the graphic contains a biopsy taken from a patient suffering from esophageal cancer, the bottom of the graphic contains a biopsy taken from a healthy patient. In the left part of the graphic, microscopic images of the mentioned biopsies are visible after the H&E staining (Hematoxylin and Eosin) (in this image of the stained biopsy, the histopathologist visually assigns tissue types), in the middle of the graphic, biopsy images obtained using infrared imaging are visible, the right part of the graphic presents a histological picture of a biopsy obtained after assigning tissues and structures to three classes (cancer, other, benign) by Machine Learning (ML).

Red – cancer
Blue – other
Green – benign

Synthesis of mesoscale ordered 2D π-conjugated polymers with semiconducting properties

Two-dimensional materials can exhibit intriguing electronic properties that stem from their geometry. The best-known example is graphene’s Dirac cone that gives rise to massless electrons, which originates from the all-carbon hexagonal lattice. Two-dimensional conjugated polymers (2DCPs) can be considered as analogues of graphene, yet offering greater potential to design geometry and properties by carefully selecting their building blocks. Strikingly, 2DCPs on a kagome lattice (i.e. a trihexagonal tiling) can show both Dirac cones and flat bands, with highly-massive charge carriers.

Despite experimental efforts spanning more than a decade, the poor crystallinity of the synthesized polymers made the study of the electronic properties of 2DCPs a scientific niche reserved to theorists. A collaboration between the “Istituto di Struttura della Materia” of the Italian CNR three Canadian universities (INRS, McGill and Lakehead) realized the milestone of the synthesis of a long-range ordered 2D polymeric network, enabling the measurement of their Dirac cone and flat band features by angle-resolved photoelectron spectroscopy (ARPES). This achievement paves the way to study the intriguing electronic properties of this new class of materials, which make them promising for applications in future electronic and optoelectronic technologies.

Read more on the Elettra website

Image :  a) Scanning tunneling microscope image of a highly-ordered polymeric network with the theoretical model superimposed b) second derivative of the ARPES map for the polymer on Au(111) along the ΓKM direction, where it is possible to observe the Dirac cone feature converging at a Dirac point (DP) around 0.55 eV; the theoretical calculated band structure is superimposed.

An innovative mirror unit for soft X-ray beamlines at MAX IV

A new five-axis parallel kinematic mirror unit has been developed for MAX IV soft X-ray beamlines. Its development and technical characteristics are now described in a peer-reviewed article.

A new five-axis parallel kinematic mirror unit has been developed for MAX IV soft X-ray beamlines. Its development and technical characteristics are now described in a peer-reviewed article.

In an article published in March 2020 in the Journal of Synchrotron Radiation, a team from Uppsala University, MAX IV Laboratory, FMB Feinwerk und Messtechnik GmbH, and University of Tartu presents a five-axis parallel kinematic mirror unit specially developed for MAX IV soft X-ray beamlines. This new mirror unit has been created to address the unique stability requirements of 4th-generation synchrotrons such as MAX IV.

MAX IV has pioneered the development of the 4th-generation synchrotrons thanks to the implementation of the multi-bend achromat technology, a system based on the use of several sequential bending magnets in place of a single large magnet. Thanks to the introduction of this technology, the emittance has decreased by one order of magnitude, resulting in increased brightness. The multi-bend achromat system has also brought new challenges for the construction of beamlines. Decreased emittance of the storage ring has allowed for a smaller beam size, which, in turn, means higher requirements for electron beam stability, as well as for mechanical stability of the beamline components.

>Read more on the MAX IV website

Image: Veritas is one of the beamlines at MAX IV used for testing the prototype of the new five-axis parallel kinematic mirror.

Seven at one pulse

New material acts as an efficient frequency multiplier

Higher frequencies mean faster data transfer and more powerful processors – the formula that has been driving the IT industry for years. Technically, however, it is anything but easy to keep increasing clock rates and radio frequencies. New materials could solve the problem. Experiments at Helmholtz-Zentrum Dresden-Rossendorf (HZDR) have now produced a promising result: An international team of researchers was able to get a novel material to increase the frequency of a terahertz radiation flash by a factor of seven: a first step for potential IT applications, as the group reports in the journal Nature Communications (DOI: 10.1038/s41467-020-16133-8).

Read more on the TELBE at Helmholtz-Zentrum Dresden-Rossendorf website

Image: An international team of researchers was able to show that the three-dimensional Dirac material cadmium arsenide (blue-red cone) can multiply the frequency of a strong terahertz pulse (red line) by a factor of seven. The reason for this are the free electrons (red dots) in the cadmium arsenide, which are accelerated by the electrical field of the terahertz flash and, thus, in turn emit electromagnetic radiation.

Credit: HZDR / Sahneweiß / istockphoto.com, spainter_vfx

Scientists use pressure to make liquid magnetism breakthrough

It sounds like a riddle: What do you get if you take two small diamonds, put a small magneticcrystal between them and squeeze them together very slowly?

The answer is a magnetic liquid, which seems counterintuitive. Liquids become solids under pressure, but not generally the other way around. But this unusual pivotal discovery, unveiled by a team of researchers working at the Advanced Photon Source (APS), a U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) Office of Science User Facility at DOE’s Argonne National Laboratory, may provide scientists with new insight into high-temperature superconductivity and quantum computing.

Though scientists and engineers have been making use of superconducting materials for decades, the exact process by which high-temperature superconductors conduct electricity without resistance remains a quantum mechanical mystery. The telltale signs of a superconductor are a loss of resistance and a loss of magnetism. High-temperature superconductors can operate at temperatures above those of liquid nitrogen (−320 degrees Fahrenheit), making them attractive for lossless transmission lines in power grids and other applications in the energy sector.

Read more on the APS website

Image: APS

Day of Light: 60th anniversary of the laser

The invention of the laser 60 years ago has transformed science and everyday life.

Sixty years after the first laser was operated on 16 May 1960 by Theodore Maiman at Hughes Research Laboratories in California, lasers have revolutionized everyday life as well as science. Lasers are also fundamental for research at the European XFEL. A public event on the European XFEL campus planned to celebrate this anniversary has been postponed to a later date.

When the world’s biggest X-ray laser and one of the planet’s brightest light sources, the European XFEL, started operation in 2017, it was the culmination of several decades of scientific progress in laser and X-ray laser technology. Lasers operating in the visible wavelength range were invented in the 1960s. In these lasers, radiation is generated from electron transitions in atoms or molecules. The light emitted is then continuously amplified between mirrors. This makes it comparatively easy to produce high-quality laser light, and many applications now shape our everyday lives. Examples range from impressive light installations, to high precision surgical instruments, broadband telecommunication, components in the electrical devices we carry in our pockets, and the laser pointer we use during presentations.

Read more on the XFEL website

Image: The optical laser system for pump-probe experiments in the laser lab.

Credit: European XFEL / Jan Hosan

Breaking the link between a quantum material’s spin and orbital states

The advance opens a path toward a new generation of logic and memory devices that could be 10,000 times faster than today’s.

In designing electronic devices, scientists look for ways to manipulate and control three basic properties of electrons: their charge; their spin states, which give rise to magnetism; and the shapes of the fuzzy clouds they form around the nuclei of atoms, which are known as orbitals.

Until now, electron spins and orbitals were thought to go hand in hand in a class of materials that’s the cornerstone of modern information technology; you couldn’t quickly change one  without changing the other. But a study at the Department of Energy’s SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory shows that a pulse of laser light can dramatically change the spin state of one important class of materials while leaving its orbital state intact.

>Read more on the LCLS at SLAC website

Image: These balloon-and-disk shapes represent an electron orbital – a fuzzy electron cloud around an atom’s nucleus – in two different orientations. Scientists hope to someday use variations in the orientations of orbitals as the 0s and 1s needed to make computations and store information in computer memories, a system known as orbitronics. A SLAC study shows it’s possible to separate these orbital orientations from electron spin patterns, a key step for independently controlling them in a class of materials that’s the cornerstone of modern information technology.

Credit: Greg Stewart/SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory

Researchers find the key to preserving The Scream

Moisture is the main environmental factor that triggers the degradation of the masterpiece The Scream (1910?) by Edvard Munch, according to the finding of an international team of scientists led by the CNR (Italy), using a combination of in situ non-invasive spectroscopic methods and synchrotron Xray techniques. After exploiting the capability of the European mobile platform MOLAB in situ and non-invasively at the Munch Museum in Oslo, the researchers came to the ESRF, the European Synchrotron (Grenoble, France), the world’s brightest X-ray source, to carry out non-destructive
experiments on micro-flakes originating from one of the most well-known versions of The Scream. The findings could help better preserve this masterpiece, which is seldom exhibited due to its degradation. The study is published in Science Advances.


The Scream is among the most famous paintings of the modern era. The now familiar image is interpreted as the ultimate representation of anxiety and mental anguish. There are a number of versions of The Scream, namely two paintings, two pastels, several lithographic prints and a few drawings and sketches. The two most well-known versions are the paintings that Edvard Munch created in 1893 and 1910. Each version of The Scream is unique. Munch clearly experimented to find the exact colours to represent his personal experience, mixing diverse binding media (tempera, oil and pastel) with brilliant and bold synthetic pigments to make ‘screaming colours’. Unfortunately, the extensive use of these new coloured materials poses a challenge for the long-term preservation of Munch’s artworks.

Read more on the ESRF website

Image: ESRF scientist Marine Cotte during the synchrotron experiment at ID21 beamline, at the ESRF, the European Synchrotron, Grenoble, France.

Credit: ESRF/Stef Candé

Understanding how the taxanes antitumoral drugs modulate cell microtubules

Researchers have found that addition of paclitaxel (a type of antitumoral drug) to microtubules alters their structure. This compound modulates the material properties of microtubules by converting destabilized growing microtubule ends into regions resistant to depolymerisation, eventually leading to cell death. Results were obtained at the NCD beamline of the ALBA Synchrotron.

Paclitaxel, one of the most commonly used antitumoural drugs, modulates microtubules, the biopolymers responsible for many essential cellular functions including cell division, movement and intracellular transport. This kind of drugs target tubulin subunits, the main microtubule proteins, and interfere with their dynamics, which can have the effect of stopping a cell cycle and can lead to programmed cell death or apoptosis.

Read more on the ALBA website 

Image: Microtubule X-ray fiber difractogram in presence of Paclitaxel.

Credit: NCD-SWEET beamline at ALBA Synchrotron

The benefits of Open Data with ExPaNDS

Diamond is a key collaborator in this European project, which will be mapping the data behind the thousands of published scientific papers

ExPaNDS, alongside the Photon and Neutron Open Science Cloud (PaNOSC) are European H2020 projects who are working towards the development of the European Open Science Cloud (EOSC).

The Photon and Neutron Research Infrastructures (PaN RIs) containing free electron laser, synchrotron light and neutron sources are generating petabytes of research data each year and such vast amounts of data can be hard to share. Researchers around the globe use the data to advance knowledge across a variety of societal challenges. These challenges can be found in energy, transport, healthcare, food safety, and sustainable living to list only a few.

Developing microbeam radiation therapy for inoperable cancer

An innovative radiation treatment that could one day be a valuable addition to conventional radiation therapy for inoperable brain and spinal tumors is a step closer, thanks to new research led by University of Saskatchewan (USask) researchers at the Canadian Light Source (CLS).

Microbeam radiation therapy (MRT) uses very high dose, synchrotron-generated X-ray beams—narrower than a human hair—to blast tumours with radiation while sparing healthy tissue. The idea is that MRT would deliver an additional dose of radiation to a tumor after maximum conventional radiation therapy has been tried, thereby providing patients with another treatment that could extend their lives. 

But the longstanding questions have been: What is the optimal X-ray energy range of the MRT radiation dose that will both penetrate the thickness of the human body and still spare the healthy cells? How can the extremely high radiation doses be delivered and measured with the accuracy necessary for human treatment?

Read more on the Canadian Light Source website

Image : Farley Chicilo at the Canadian Light Source.

Insights into the visual perception of plants

Plants use light not only for photosynthesis. Although the plant cell does not have eyes, it can still perceive light and thus its environment. Phytochromes, certain turquoise proteins, play the central role in this process. How exactly they function is still unclear. Now a team led by plant physiologist Jon Hughes (Justus Liebig University Gießen) has been able to decipher the three-dimensional architecture of various plant phytochrome molecules at BESSY II. Their results demonstrate how light alters the structure of the phytochrome so that the cell transmits a signal to control the development of the plant accordingly.

Plants use light to live, via a process called photosynthesis. Yet, they do use light also by so called phytochromes – special molecules that give plants a kind of sight and can thus control the biochemistry of the cell and the development of the plant. It is now known that phytochromes regulate almost a quarter of the plant genome.

Read more on the BESSY II (at HZB) website

Image : Inside the 3D-structure of a phytochrome a bilin pigment absorbs the photon and rotates, which triggers a signal

Credit: Jon Hughes

A closer look at superconductors

A new measuring method helps understand the physics of high-temperature superconductivity

From sustainable energy to quantum computers: high-temperature superconductors have the potential to revolutionize today’s technologies. Despite intensive research, however, we still lack the necessary basic understanding to develop these complex materials for widespread application. “Higgs spectroscopy” could bring about a watershed as it reveals the dynamics of paired electrons in superconductors. An international research consortium centered around the Helmholtz-Zentrum Dresden-Rossendorf (HZDR) and the Max Planck Institute for Solid State Research (MPI-FKF) is now presenting the new measuring method in the journal Nature Communications (DOI: 10.1038/s41467-020-15613-1). Remarkably, the dynamics also reveal typical precursors of superconductivity even above the critical temperature at which the materials investigated attain superconductivity.

Read more on the TELBE at HZDR website

Image: Deciphering previously invisible dynamics in superconductors – Higgs spectroscopy could make this possible: Using cuprates, a high-temperature superconductor, as an example, an international team of researchers has been able to demonstrate the potential of the new measurement method. By applying a strong terahertz pulse (frequency ω), they stimulated and continuously maintained Higgs oscillations in the material (2ω). Driving the system resonant to the Eigenfrequency of the Higgs oscillations in turn leads to the generation of characteristic terahertz light with tripled frequency (3ω).

Preventing hospital-acquired pneumonia

Researchers used the Canadian Light Source (CLS) at the University of Saskatchewan to identify a previously unrecognized family of enzymes that put us at risk for deadly diseases.

Klebsiella pneumoniae is responsible for a variety of hospital-acquired infections such as pneumonia and sepsis. The bacterium has become increasingly resistant to antibiotics, making it a focus of interest for health care professionals and researchers.

>Read more on the Canadian Light Source website

Image: Chris Whitfield has been working on polysaccharides like LPS throughout his career.