New state-of-the-art beamlines for the APS

The two new beamlines will be constructed as part of a comprehensive upgrade of the APS, enhancing its capabilities and maintaining its status as a world-leading facility for X-ray science.

In a socially distanced ceremony this morning at the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Argonne National Laboratory, leaders from DOE, Argonne and the University of Chicago broke ground on the future of X-ray science in the United States.

Today’s small gathering marked the start of construction on the Long Beamline Building, a new experiment hall that will house two new beamlines that will transport the ultrabright X-rays generated by the Advanced Photon Source (APS) to advanced scientific instruments. It will be built as part of the $815 million upgrade of the APS, a DOE Office of Science User Facility and one of the most productive light sources in the world. The APS, which is in essence a stadium-sized X-ray microscope, attracts more than 5,000 scientists from around the globe to conduct research each year in many fields ranging from chemistry to life sciences to materials science to geology.

Read more on the Argonne National Laboratory website

Image : Artist’s rendition of the Long Beamline Building. The new facility will be built as part of a major upgrade of the APS and will house two new beamlines.

Credit: HDR Architects

Investigating 3D-printed structures in real time

Scientists used ultrabright x-rays to watch the developing structure of a 3D-printed part evolve during the printing process.

A team of scientists working at the National Synchrotron Light Source II (NSLS-II) at the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE’s) Brookhaven National Laboratory has designed an apparatus that can take simultaneous temperature and x-ray scattering measurements of a 3D printing process in real time, and have used it to gather information that may improve finished 3D products made from a large variety of plastics. This study could broaden the scope of the printing process in the manufacturing industry and is also an important step forward for Brookhaven Lab and Stony Brook University’s collaborative advanced manufacturing program.

The researchers were studying a 3D printing method called fused filament fabrication, now better known as material extrusion. In material extrusion, filaments of a thermoplastic—a polymer that softens when heated and hardens when cooled—are melted and deposited in many thin layers to build a finished structure. This approach is often called “additive” manufacturing because the layers add up to produce the final product.

Read more on the NSLS-II website

Image: The photo shows the research team, (from front to back) Yu-Chung Lin, Miriam Rafailovich, Aniket Raut, Guillaume Freychet, Mikhail Zhernenkov, and Yuval Shmueli (not pictured), placing the 3D printer into the chamber of the Soft Matter Interfaces (SMI) beamline at Brookhaven Lab’s National Synchrotron Light Source II (NSLS-II).

Note: this photo was taken in March 2020, prior to current COVID-19 social distancing guidelines.

World first for Synchrotron InfraRed Photo-Thermal in Life NanoSciences

Measuring drug-induced molecular changes within a cell at sub-wavelength scale

Synchrotron InfraRed Nanospectroscopy has been used for the first time to measure biomolecular changes induced by a drug (amiodarone) within human cells (macrophages) and localized at 100 nanometre scale, i.e. two orders of magnitude smaller than the IR wavelength used as probe. This was achieved at the Multimode InfraRed Imaging and Micro Spectroscopy (MIRIAM) beamline (B22) at Diamond Light Source, the UK’s national synchrotron facility.

This is a major scientific result in Life Sciences shared by an international team made up of researchers from the School of Cancer and Pharmaceutical Science at Kings College London, the Department of Pharmaceutical Technology and Bio-pharmacy at University of Vienna, and the scientists of the MIRIAM B22 beamline at Diamond.

Read more on the Diamond website

Image: Schematic of Synchrotron photo-thermal IR nano-spectroscopy on mammalian cell at beamline B22.

SLAC’s upgraded X-ray laser facility produces first light

Marking the beginning of the LCLS-II era, the first phase of the major upgrade comes online.

Menlo Park, Calif. — Just over a decade ago in April 2009, the world’s first hard X-ray free-electron laser (XFEL) produced its first light at the US Department of Energy’s SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory. The Linac Coherent Light Source (LCLS) generated X-ray pulses a billion times brighter than anything that had come before. Since then, its performance has enabled fundamental new insights in a number of scientific fields, from creating “molecular movies” of chemistry in action to studying the structure and motion of proteins for new generations of pharmaceuticals and replicating the processes that create “diamond rain” within giant planets in our solar system.

The next major step in this field was set in motion in 2013, launching the LCLS-II upgrade project to increase the X-ray laser’s power by thousands of times, producing a million pulses per second compared to 120 per second today. This upgrade is due to be completed within the next two years.

Today the first phase of the upgrade came into operation, producing an X-ray beam for the first time using one critical element of the newly installed equipment.

Read more on the SLAC website

Image: Over the past 18 months, the original LCLS undulator system was removed and replaced with two totally new systems that offer dramatic new capabilities .

Credit: (Andy Freeberg/Alberto Gamazo/SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory)

New nanoimaging method traces metal presence in Parkinson’s brain

Many neurodegenerative diseases like Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s often exhibit an excess of iron in the brain. Scientists have developed a method to trace the presence of metals in brain at the sub-cellular level, particularly in organelles of neurons vulnerable to these diseases. The results are published in Communications Biology.

The level and distribution of iron in the brain normally contributes to essential cellular functions, including mitochondrial respiration, via its capability to transfer electrons. In vulnerable populations of neurons however, iron dysregulation can have detrimental effects. Genetic defects affecting iron metabolism cause brain diseases, including Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s, both associated with iron overload. “It is important to be able to explore metal distribution in neurons and glia (non-neuronal cells), with the aim to identify potential causal mechanisms in neurodegeneration”, explains Bernard Schneider, scientist at EPFL and co-author of the study.

Until now, there was no method that could trace the elements with sensitivity and nanometre resolution. A team of scientists from LGL-TPE (Laboratoire de Géologie de Lyon : Terre, Planètes et Environnement), Institut des Sciences de la terre (ISTerre) de Grenoble, the ESRF and the EPFL (École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne) have now combined the techniques of transmission electron microscopy and synchrotron X-ray fluorescence at the ESRF in order to evaluate the element unbalance in Parkinson’s disease.

Read more on the ESRF website

Image : Composition of P/Fe/S in a section of a neuron of the substantia nigra. The neuron and its nucleus are highlighted by dashed lines. Cytoplasmic granules rich in Fe and S are pointed out by arrows. 

Credit: Lemelle, L, et al, Communications Biology, DOI : 10.1038/s42003-020-1084-0.

Promising new drug carrier could improve bone repair and cancer treatments

Researchers from Western University and the Shanghai Institute of Ceramics, Chinese Academy of Sciences used the Canadian Light Source (CLS) at the University of Saskatchewan to explore a promising drug carrier that could be used to deliver cancer treatments and therapeutics for severe injuries.

Their work advances drug carrier technology to make the carrier more compatible with our bodies. This allows the drug carrier to deliver the desired treatment precisely to a tumor, or to allow a slower release of the medicine. In a new paper published in The Royal Society of Chemistry, the team investigated using calcium phosphate as a potential drug carrier. Their approach uses phosphate from the biomolecule that stores and transports energy in our cells, which allows the carrier to be more compatible with the human body. Using this drug delivery system solves the limitations of other carriers, including biocompatibility and toxicity. Their carrier is highly compatible with our biological system, allowing for a better response while also being non-toxic.

“Calcium phosphate is an important biomaterial in bones and teeth. If you can use this material as a drug carrier then you don’t need to worry about what happens after it is done with delivery,” said Tsun-Kong (TK) Sham, Professor of Chemistry at Western University.

Read more on the Canadian Light Source website

Image: TK Sham, a Professor of Chemistry at Western University, using beamlines at the CLS.

Terahertz tuning of Dirac plasmons in Bi2Se3 Topological Insulator

Light can be strongly confined in subwavelength spatial regions through the interaction with plasmons, the collective electronic modes appearing in metals and semiconductors. This confinement, which is particularly important in the terahertz spectral region, amplifies light-matter interaction and provides a powerful mechanism for efficiently generating nonlinear optical phenomena. These effects are particularly relevant in graphene and topological insulators, where massless Dirac fermions show a naturally nonlinear optical behaviour in the terahertz range. We have shown that the Dirac plasmon resonance in Bi2Se3 topological insulators can be tuned over one octave by employing intense broadband terahertz radiation delivered by the TeraFERMI beamline at FERMI@Elettra. This paves the way towards tunable terahertz nonlinear devices based on topological insulators, with potential applications in opto-electronics, communication, and sensing technologies.

>Read more on the Elettra website

Image: Plasmons are collective oscillations of electrons that can be directly excited by electromagnetic radiation in the presence of an extra momentum (red arrow). This is achieved in the present experiment, through ribbon arrays fabricated onto the surface of topological insulator Bi2Se3 films, excited after illumination with sub-ps, half-cycle THz pulses produced at the FERMI free-electron laser.

New substance library to accelerate the search for active compounds

In order to accelerate the systematic development of drugs, the MX team at the Helmholtz-Zentrum Berlin (HZB) and the Drug Design Group at the University of Marburg have established a new substance library. It consists of 1103 organic molecules that could be used as building blocks for new drugs. The MX team has now validated this library in collaboration with the FragMAX group at MAX IV. The substance library of the HZB is available for research worldwide and also plays a role in the search for substances active against SARS-CoV-2.

For drugs to be effective, they usually have to dock to proteins in the organism. Like a key in a lock, part of the drug molecule must fit into recesses or cavities of the target protein. For several years now, the team of the Macromolecular Crystallography Department (MX) at HZB headed by Dr. Manfred Weiss together with the Drug Design Group headed by Prof. Gerhard Klebe (University of Marburg) has therefore been working on building up what are known as fragment libraries. These consist of small organic molecules (fragments) with which the functionally important cavities on the surface of proteins can be probed and mapped. Protein crystals are saturated with the fragments and then analysed using powerful X-ray light. This allows three-dimensional structural information to be obtained at levels of atomic resolution. Among other things, it is possible to find out how well a specific molecule fragment docks to the target protein. The development of these substance libraries took place as part of the joint Frag4Lead research project and was funded by the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF).

Read more on the BESSY II website

Image : For the study, the enzyme endothiapepsin (grey) was combined with molecules from the fragment library. The analysis shows that numerous substances are able to dock to the enzyme (blue and orange molecules). Every substance found is a potential starting point for the development of larger molecules. 

Credit: Wollenhaupt/HZB


The new Brazilian synchrotron light source, Sirius, from the Brazilian Synchrotron Light Laboratory (LNLS) at the Brazilian Center for Research in Energy and Materials (CNPEM), carried out the first experiments on one of its beamlines this week. The first research station to start operating, still in the commissioning stage, can reveal details of the structure of biological molecules, such as viral proteins. These first experiments are part of an effort by CNPEM to provide a cutting-edge tool to the Brazilian scientific community working in SARS-CoV-2 research.

In these initial analyses, CNPEM researchers observed crystals of a coronavirus protein, essential for the development of COVID-19. The first results reveal details of the structure of this protein, important for understanding the biology of the virus and supporting research that seeks new drugs against the disease.

>Read more on the LNLS website

Artificial double-helix for geometrical control of magnetic chirality

A study published in ACS Nano demonstrated the imprinting of complex 3D chirality at the nanoscale using state-of-the-art fabrication techniques and magnetic microscopy at MISTRAL beamline of the ALBA Synchrotron. The results prove the possible control of the magnetic configuration with geometrical morphologies displaying 3D chirality and open a new avenue on applied nanomagnetism. The research was the result of a multiple collaboration of scientists from Cambridge, Glasgow and Zaragoza Universities, the ALBA Synchrotron and the Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory.

An object is chiral if its image in a mirror cannot bring to coincide with itself as our right and left hands. Chirality plays a major role in nature, for example DNA double helix is a chiral right-handed structure. In magnetism, interactions between spins which are sensitive to chirality generate, in 2D structures with engineered interfaces, complex magnetic configurations as skyrmions that may be of future use in spintronics. In this study, researchers demonstrate the imprinting of complex 3D chirality at the nanoscale using state-of-the-art fabrication techniques and magnetic microscopy at MISTRAL. By fabricating a double helix ferromagnetic structure, magnetic domains were created having the same chirality of the double helix. Moreover, if the geometrical chirality was inverted in the course of the fabrication of the strand, then, the chirality of the magnetic domains was also inverted. At the location were both magnetic chiralities meet, a confined 3D magnetization was evidenced. The ability to create chiral 3D structures with nano patterning enables the control of complex topological magnetic states that might be important for future materials in which chirality provides a specific functionality.

Read more on the ALBA website

Image: Figure: a) 3D-printing of a cobalt nano-helix by FEBID. After injection of Co2(CO)8 into the chamber of a scanning electron microscope (SEM) using a gas injection system (GIS), the focused electron beam (in green and magenta) alternatively exposes the two helix strands. b) Coloured SEM image of the nanostructure under investigation, consisting of two double-helices of opposite chirality joined at the tendril perversion marked *. Scale bar 250nm, c) XMCD image of the double helix studied, which changes geometric chirality at *. Image at zero field, after application of a saturating field H along the axis as indicated. D) XMCD image of the double-helix under study in the as-grown state. Scale bars in c) and d) 200 nm.

Helping to neutralise greenhouse gases

Researchers used the Canadian Light Source (CLS) at the University of Saskatchewan to create an affordable and efficient electrocatalyst that can transform CO2 into valuable chemicals. The result could help businesses as well as the environment.

Electrocatalysts help to collect CO2 pollution and efficiently convert it into more valuable carbon monoxide gas, which is an important product used in industrial applications. Carbon monoxide gas could also help the environment by allowing renewable fuels and chemicals to be manufactured more readily.

The end goal would be to try to neutralize the greenhouse gases that worsen climate change.

Precious metals are often used in electrocatalysts, but a team of scientists from Canada and China set out to find a less expensive alternative that would not compromise performance. In a new paper, the stability and energy efficiency of the team’s novel electrocatalyst offered promising results.

Read more on the Canadian Light Source website

Image : Schematic of an electrochemistry CO2-to-CO reduction reaction.

Lab Resolves Origin of Perovskite Instability

The following news release was originally issued by Princeton University. The story describes how researchers investigated the inorganic perovskite, cesium lead iodide, that has attracted wide attention for its potential in creating highly efficient solar cells. The researchers used x-ray diffraction performed at Princeton University and x-ray pair distribution function measurements performed at the National Synchrotron Light Source II (NSLS-II), a U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) Office of Science User Facility located at DOE’s Brookhaven National Laboratory, to find the source of thermodynamic instability in the perovskite. For more information about Brookhaven’s role in this research, please reach out to Cara Laasch,  

Researchers in the Cava Group at the Princeton University Department of Chemistry have demystified the reasons for instability in an inorganic perovskite that has attracted wide attention for its potential in creating highly efficient solar cells.

Using single crystal X-ray diffraction performed at Princeton University and X-ray pair distribution function measurements performed at the Brookhaven National Laboratory, Princeton Department of Chemistry researchers detected that the source of thermodynamic instability in the halide perovskite cesium lead iodide (CsPbI3) is the inorganic cesium atom and its “rattling” behavior within the crystal structure.

Read more on NSLS II website

Image: Milinda Abeykoon, one of the lead beamline scientists at Brookhaven Lab, in preparation of the challenging experiments with Robert Cava’s team.

Looping X-rays to produce higher quality laser pulses

A proposed device could expand the reach of X-ray lasers, opening new experimental avenues in biology, chemistry, materials science and physics.BY ALI SUNDERMIER

Ever since 1960, when Theodore Maiman built the world’s first infrared laser, physicists dreamed of producing X-ray laser pulses that are capable of probing the ultrashort and ultrafast scales of atoms and molecules.

This dream was finally realized in 2009, when the world’s first hard X-ray free-electron laser (XFEL), the Linac Coherent Light Source (LCLS) at the Department of Energy’s SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory, produced its first light. One limitation of LCLS and other XFELs in their normal mode of operation is that each pulse has a slightly different wavelength distribution, and there can be variability in the pulse length and intensity. Various methods exist to address this limitation, including ‘seeding’ the laser at a particular wavelength, but these still fall short of the wavelength purity of conventional lasers.

Read more on the SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory website

Image: Schematic arrangement of the experiment. The researchers send an X-ray pulse from LCLS through a liquid jet, where it creates excited atoms that emit a pulse of radiation at one distinct color moving in the same direction. This pulse is reflected through a series of mirrors arranged in a crossed loop. The size of this loop is carefully set so that the pulse arrives back at the liquid jet at the same time as a second X-ray pulse from LCLS. This produces an even brighter laser pulse, which then takes the same loop. The process is repeated several times, and with each loop the laser pulse intensifies and becomes more coherent. During the last loop, one of the mirrors is quickly switched allowing this laser pulse to exit.

Credit: (Greg Stewart/SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory)

Apart Yet Together: Virtual 2020 NSLS-II & CFN Users’ Meeting

A record-breaking number of attendees gathered virtually at the NSLS-II & CFN Users’ Meeting to discuss the most recent developments in photon science and nanoscience

Upton—From May 18 to 20, more than 1500 registered attendees from 37 countries around the world participated in the first-ever virtual joint Users’ Meeting of the Center for Functional Nanomaterials (CFN) and the National Synchrotron Light Source II (NSLS-II)—two U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) Office of Science User Facilities at DOE’s Brookhaven National Laboratory. Holding the annual joint Users’ Meeting is a long-standing tradition at Brookhaven Lab, where attendees enjoy scientific discourse during the warm spring days on Long Island. 

While the Coronavirus pandemic limited the Lab’s ability to bring attendees on site for 2020, it presented a new opportunity for the conference organizers to hold a virtual Users’ Meeting, which attracted five times more attendees than ever before. The meeting included eight workshops, each held in a virtual meeting rooms with record-breaking numbers of attendees, ranging from 120 to more than 400. The meeting’s plenary session included more than 600 attendees listening and asking questions. 

Read more on the NSLS-II website

Image: NSLS-II aerial

Cross-β Structure – a Core Building Block for Streptococcus mutans Functional Amyloids

Most amyloids1 are misfolded proteins, having enormous variety in native structures. Pathological amyloids are implicated in diseases including Alzheimer’s disease and many others.  They are characterized by long, unbranched fibrillar structure, enhanced birefringence on binding Congo red dye, and cross-β structure – β-strands running approximately perpendicular to the fibril axis, forming long β-sheets running in the direction of the axis.  Fiber diffraction patterns from amyloids are marked by strong intensity at about 4.8 Å in the meridional direction (parallel to the fibril axis), corresponding to the separation of strands in a β-sheet, and in many cases broader but distinct equatorial intensity at about 10 Å.  The 10 Å intensity (whose position may vary considerably) comes from the distance between stacked β-sheets.  This stacking is characteristic of the many amyloids formed by small peptides, including peptide fragments of larger amyloidogenic proteins.  While some authors have required the 10 Å intensity to characterize an amyloid, it is not strictly necessary, since architecturally more complex examples have been found of Congo-red-staining fibrils with cross-β structure, but without the stacked-sheet structure, and consequently without the 10 Å intensity on the equator.

Amyloids do not always stem from protein misfolding.  Organisms across all kingdoms utilize functional amyloids in numerous biological processes.  Bacteria are no exception. Bacterial amyloids contribute to biofilm formation and stability.  Tooth decay is the most common infectious disease in the world.  A major etiologic agent, Streptococcus mutans, is a quintessential biofilm dweller that produces at least three different amyloid-forming proteins, adhesins P1 and WapP, and the cell density and competence regulator Smu_63c2.  The naturally occurring truncation derivatives of P1 and WapA, C123 and AgA, represent the amyloidogenic moieties, and a new paradigm of Gram-positive bacterial adhesins is emerging of adhesins having dual functions in monomeric and amyloid forms. While each S. mutans protein possesses considerable β-sheet structure, the tertiary structures of each protein are quite different (Fig. 1).  This study further characterized S. mutans amyloids and addressed the ongoing debate regarding the underlying structure and assembly of bacterial amyloids including speculation that they are structurally dissimilar from better-characterized amyloids.

Read more on the SSRL website

Image: Crystal or predicted 3D structures of S. mutans C123 (left), AgA (center), and Smu_63c (right).

A polymer coating makes Metal Organic Frameworks better at delivering drugs

Researchers use Synchrotron InfraRed microspectroscopy to study the dynamics of drug release from MOFs

How to efficiently deliver targeted, controlled and time-released doses of drugs is a significant challenge for biomedicine. Finding solutions to this challenge would result in substantial benefits for patients, including more effective drug therapy and fewer undesirable side effects. The porous nature of metal-organic frameworks (MOFs) makes them attractive candidates for drug-delivery systems as they can be tailored to hold and transport a variety of encapsulated guest molecules. To this end, employing MOFs as a drug delivery vehicle could offer potential solutions to accomplish the targeted and controlled release of anti-cancer drugs. However, understanding the precise chemical and physical transformations that MOFs undergo as these guest molecules are released is challenging. In work recently published in ACS Applied Materials & Interfacesresearchers from the University of Oxford, University of Turin, and Diamond Light Source used a combination of experimental and theoretical techniques to address this problem. They show how the combination of hydrophilic MOF-encapsulated drug with a hydrophobic polymeric matrix is a highly promising strategy to tune the drug release rate for optimal delivery. Their results demonstrate that high-resolution synchrotron InfraRed microspectroscopy is a powerful in situ technique for tracking the local chemical and physical transformations, revealing the dynamics underpinning the controlled release of drug molecules bound to the MOF pores.  

Read more on Diamond Light Source website

Image: Using synchrotron infrared radiation to track the drug release process from MOF/Polymer composites.