New ant genus named after DESY

Researchers spot previously unknown extinct ant in 20 million-years-old amber

An international team of scientists led by Friedrich Schiller University Jena has identified a previously unknown extinct ant in a unique piece of African amber about 20 million years old. The team used DESY’s X-ray light source PETRA III to examine the critical fossil remains from 13 individual animals at a specialised measuring station operated by Helmholtz-Zentrum Hereon and realised that these could not be attributed to any known species. The new species even establishes a completely new genus of primordial ants, as the scientists from the Universities of Jena, Rennes (France) and Gdansk (Poland) as well as from Hereon report in the scientific journal Insects. The new genus was named after DESY, the new species after Hereon: With the scientific name †Desyopone hereon gen. et sp. nov., the discoverers honour the two research institutions, which had contributed significantly to this discovery with modern imaging methods.


“It is a great honour that DESY is the namesake of the new primordial ant genus,“ emphasises Christian Schroer, Leading Scientist of PETRA III at DESY. “And we are delighted that we can provide the brilliant X-ray light for such top-class research with our facility.” PETRA III is a particle accelerator that sends fast electrons on slalom paths, where they emit highly focused X-ray light that can be used to study the finest details of a wide variety of samples.

Read more on the DESY website

Image: Magnified (about 100,000 fold) representation of the extinct ant in a glass block in the Hereon measuring station at DESY’s X-ray light source PETRA III, where the original had been studied.

Credit: DESY, Marta Mayer

X-rays allow us to quickly develop high-strength steels

Knowing how strong a piece of steel is, especially the stainless steel used in everything from cars to buildings, is vitally important for the people who make and use it. This information helps to keep people safe during crashes and to prevent buildings from collapsing.

Accurately predicting the strength of a steel prototype based on its microstructure and composition would be indispensable when designing new types of steel, but it has been nearly impossible to achieve — until now.

“Designing/making the best-strength steel is the hardest task,” said Dr Harishchandra Singh, an adjunct professor at NANOMO and the Centre for Advanced Steels Research at the University of Oulu in Finland.

Estimating the contribution of various factors towards designing high-strength novel steel has traditionally required numerous tests that can take months, according to Singh. Each test also requires a new sample of the prototype. 

Read more on the CLS website

Image: Dr Harishchandra Singh, an adjunct professor at NANOMO and the Centre for Advanced Steels Research at the University of Oulu in Finland. He is standing next to steel components in the spectroscopy lab at NANOMO.

Opening Ceremony for the new ASTRA (SOLABS) beamline

On 29 June 2022, the official opening ceremony was held for the ASTRA beamline (formerly SOLABS), a beamline dedicated to measurements using X-ray absorption spectroscopy (XAS) in the energy range of 1 keV to 15 keV. The ceremony was attended by a number of distinguished guests along with the international team involved in building the beamline.

International cooperation is the key to success.

The ASTRA beamline was created thanks to the cooperation of 4 scientific institutions, the Hochschule Niederrhein University of Applied Sciences (Germany), Synchrotron Light Research Institute (Thailand), the Institute of Physics at Bonn University (Germany), and the SOLARIS Center.

Read more on the Solaris website

Image: Starting from right to left: Prof. Alexander Prange (Hochschule Niederrhein), Dr Thomas Grünewald (Hochschule Niederrhein), Prof. Stanisław Kistryn (Jagiellonian University), Prof. Marek Stankiewicz (SOLARIS, JU), Dr Michael Groß (Consul General of Germany), Prof. Josef Hormes (University of Bonn). Further Dr Alexey Maximenko (SOLARIS), Dr Henning Lichtenberg (Hochschule Niederrhein), Marcel Piszak (SOLARIS) – credit Solaris Synchrotron. 

#SynchroLightAt75 – X-ray detector technology

X-Ray detectors first developed at Paul Scherrer Institute PSI in the 1990s to aid the search for the Higgs Boson at CERN and then applied to the Swiss Light Source SLS led to the spin-off, Dectris. Today this company employs over 100 people and its cutting-edge detectors are used at synchrotron and free electron laser (FEL) light sources worldwide for diverse applications ranging from protein structure determination to investigations into novel materials.

As the light source community marks #SynchroScienceAt75, we look back on this fascinating chapter in the history of light sources….

From the Higgs boson to new drugs (story published by PSI in 2016)

New ultrafast detector at the Paul Scherrer Institute

A picture-perfect example of how basic research makes solid contributions to the economy is the company DECTRIS in Baden-Dättwil, Switzerland — a spin-off of the Paul Scherrer Institute PSI, founded in 2006 and already highly successful. The detector that became, around ten years ago, the company’s founding product originated in the course of the search for the Higgs boson. Now the newest development from DECTRIS is on the market: an especially precise detector called EIGER, which is used for X-ray measurements at large research facilities. Since the fall of 2015, the newest model of the EIGER series has proven itself at the Swiss Light Source SLS. These days, researchers are writing the first scientific publications about experiments that have been carried out with the new detector. EIGER helps researchers to measure protein molecules better and more precisely than before. That in turn is of great interest for the development of new pharmaceuticals. It’s possible that urgently needed alternatives to antibiotics might be found in this way.

Read more on the PSI website

Image: PSI scientist Justyna Wojdyla and DECTRIS engineer Michel Stäuber with the EIGER X 16M – the spin-off company’s newest and, so far, highest-performance X-ray detector (caption from 2016)

Credit: Scanderbeg Sauer Photography

International research continued at BESSY II despite the pandemic

2021 was not an easy year for international research: owing to lockdowns and travel bans, science was hit hard by the pandemic situation. Nevertheless, experiments continued at a high level at the BESSY II light source in Berlin Adlershof – thanks in part to new remote service offers. Here are the figures at a glance.

“It makes us happy that BESSY II was dependably available to researchers for around 6000 hours despite the difficult conditions,” says Dr. Antje Vollmer, Head of User Coordination at HZB. The light generated at BESSY II is directed through 25 beamlines to 37 experimental stations. Thus, altogether, light was available for nearly 150,000 hours of research at all the beamlines. This light is used for experiments in many fields, including physics, chemistry and the life sciences. 

47 percent of user groups from abroad

As was to be expected, given that travel had to be limited, COVID-19 left a dip in user visits in 2021. “We counted just under 1400 visits from users last year. What surprised us, in view of the tense situation, was that 30 percent of the user groups came from other European countries and 17 percent were from non-European countries,” reports Antje Vollmer. “In total, we had user groups from 34 countries, which is an astonishing number.”

The fact that researchers from abroad conducted their experiments at BESSY II even in the corona year 2021 underlines the attractiveness of the photon source and the experimental stations, some of which are unique worldwide. “It also shows that the users here are very well looked after by dedicated scientists at the experimental stations and are happy to come back.”

Read more on the HZB website

Image: In 2021, our users at BESSY II came from 34 countries

Credit: © HZB

Triggering room-temperature superconductivity with light

Scientists discover that triggering superconductivity with a flash of light involves the same fundamental physics that are at work in the more stable states needed for devices, opening a new path toward producing room-temperature superconductivity.

Much like people can learn more about themselves by stepping outside of their comfort zones, researchers can learn more about a system by giving it a jolt that makes it a little unstable – scientists call this “out of equilibrium” – and watching what happens as it settles back down into a more stable state.

In the case of a superconducting material known as yttrium barium copper oxide, or YBCO, experiments have shown that under certain conditions, knocking it out of equilibrium with a laser pulse allows it to superconduct – conduct electrical current with no loss – at much closer to room temperature than researchers expected. This could be a big deal, given that scientists have been pursuing room-temperature superconductors for more than three decades.

But do observations of this unstable state have any bearing on how high-temperature superconductors would work in the real world, where applications like power lines, maglev trains, particle accelerators and medical equipment require them to be stable?

A study published in Science Advances today suggests that the answer is yes.

“People thought that even though this type of study was useful, it was not very promising for future applications,” said Jun-Sik Lee, a staff scientist at the Department of Energy’s SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory and leader of the international research team that carried out the study.

Read more on the SLAC website

Image: To study superconducting materials in their “normal,” non-superconducting state, scientists usually switch off superconductivity by exposing the material to a magnetic field, left. SLAC scientists discovered that turning off superconductivity with a flash of light, right, produces a normal state with very similar fundamental physics that is also unstable and can host brief flashes of room-temperature superconductivity. These results open a new path toward producing room-temperature superconductivity that’s stable enough for practical devices.

Credit: Greg Stewart/SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory

X-ray laser reveals how radiation damage arises

DOUBLE BOMBARDMENT EXPOSES THE DETAILED DYNAMICS OF HOW WATER MOLECULES BREAK APART

An international research team has used the SQS instrument at the European XFEL to gain new insights into how radiation damage occurs in biological tissue. The study reveals in detail how water molecules are broken apart by high-energy radiation, creating potentially hazardous electrically charged ions, which can go on to trigger harmful reactions in the organism. The team led by Maria Novella Piancastelli and Renaud Guillemin from the Sorbonne in Paris, Ludger Inhester from DESY and Till Jahnke from European XFEL presents its observations and analyses in the scientific journal Physical Review X.

Since water is present in every known organism, the so-called photolysis of water is often the starting point for radiation damage. “However, the chain of reactions that can be triggered in the body by high-energy radiation is still not fully understood,” explains Inhester. “For example, even just observing the formation of individual ions and radicals in water when high-energy radiation is absorbed is already very difficult.”

Read more on the XFEL website

Image: After the absorption of an X-ray photon, the water molecule can bend up so far that after only about ten femtoseconds (quadrillionths of a second) both hydrogen atoms (grey) are facing each other, with the oxygen atom (red) in the middle. This motion can be studied by absorbing a second X-ray photon.

Credit: DESY, Ludger Inhester

Paving the way for more effective pancreatic cancer research

A team of scientists led by the University of Surrey used Diamond’s B16 Beamline, a flexible and versatile beamline for testing new developments in optics and detector technology and for trialling new experimental techniques, to better understand the structure of cancer cells. 

By using the synchrotron, the team were able to complete sophisticated examinations of the characteristics of cell structures at a nano level and even at an atomic scale and to investigate how cells and materials interact with each other.  

To improve cancer screening and treatment, researchers need accurate models of cancer tissues on which to experiment. Previous research made significant progress in building accurate, novel 3D models which mimic features of a pancreatic tumour, such as structure, porosity and protein composition.

Read more on the Diamond website

Image: Inside the experimental hutch at Diamond’s B16 beamline.

Credit: Diamond Light Source

Secrets of skyrmions revealed

Why skyrmions could have a lot in common with glass and high-temperature superconductors

Spawned by the spins of electrons in magnetic materials, these tiny whirlpools behave like independent particles and could be the future of computing. Experiments with SLAC’s X-ray laser are revealing their secrets.

Scientists have known for a long time that magnetism is created by the spins of electrons lining up in certain ways. But about a decade ago, they discovered another astonishing layer of complexity in magnetic materials: Under the right conditions, these spins can form little vortexes or whirlpools that act like particles and move around independently of the atoms that spawned them.

The tiny whirlpools are called skyrmions, named after Tony Skyrme, the British physicist who predicted their existence in 1962. Their small size and sturdy nature – like knots that are hard to undo – have given rise to a rapidly expanding field devoted to understanding them better and exploiting their strange qualities.

“These objects represent some of the most sophisticated forms of magnetic order that we know about,” said Josh Turner, a staff scientist at the Department of Energy’s SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory and principal investigator with the Stanford Institute for Materials and Energy Sciences (SIMES) at SLAC.

Read more on the SLAC website

Images: Top: Images based on simulations show how three phases of matter, including skyrmions – tiny whirlpools created by the spins of electrons – can form in certain magnetic materials. They are stripes of electron spin (left); hexagonal lattices (right); and an in-between phase (center) that’s a mixture of the two. In this middle, glass-like state, skyrmions move very slowly, like cars in a traffic jam – one of several discoveries made in recent studies by scientists at SLAC, Stanford, Berkeley Lab and UC San Diego. Bottom: Patterns formed in a detector during experiments that explored fundamentals of skyrmion behavior at SLAC’s Linac Coherent Light Source X-ray free-electron laser.

Credit: Esposito et al., Applied Physics Letters, 2020

X-ray insights may enable better plastics production

Analysis helps to understand fragmentation of catalyst particles in ethylene polymerisation

An X-ray study at DESY is pointing the way towards a better understanding of plastics production. A team led by Utrecht University investigated so-called Ziegler-type catalysts, the workhorses in the world’s polyethylene and polypropylene production, at DESY’s X-ray source PETRA III. As the scientists report in the journal JACS Au, the catalyst microparticles fragment into an astonishing variety of smaller particles during polymer production. The results allow for a better finetuning of desired polymer properties and may even help to further increase polymer yield.

Polyolefins, such as polyethylene (PE) and polypropylene (PP), play an important role in everyday life. Applications range from food packaging to increase the lifetime of the product to the sterile packing of medical equipment to the insulation of electrical cables. To prepare tailored polyolefins on demand, a versatile class of catalyst materials, such as the Ziegler-type catalysts, are used that consist of very small particles containing various metals such as titanium.

The catalyst particles have typical sizes of only a few tens of micrometres (thousandths of a millimetre), that is, less than the thickness of a human hair. Thanks to these catalysts, polyethylene can be produced at ambient pressure and temperature and with enhanced material characteristics. “Polyolefin research today focusses on specifically tailoring polymer properties to the demands of customers, and this is where insights about the polymerisation process such as the ones obtained in this study are crucial,” explains Koen Bossers from Utrecht University, first author of the study.

Read more on the DESY website

Image: 434 particles were imaged simultaneously with a resolution of 74 nm and identified and characterised individually with respect to their geometrical properties and fragmentation behaviour. The displayed rendering shows a virtual cut through the tomographic data set where each identified particle is color-coded for better visualisation. Most particles are about 5-6 microns in diameter. The data has further been segmented into regions of similar electron density to separate polymer from catalyst fragments within each particle; these regions are displayed in blue, green, orange, and red and visualised via the virtual cut though the 3-D representation of the catalyst particles. This segmentation allowed for a detailed analysis of the fragmentation behaviour of each particle

Credit: Utrecht University, Roozbeh Valadian

Using science to make the best chocolate yet

Scientists used synchrotron technology to show a key ingredient can create the ideal chocolate structure and could revolutionize the chocolate industry.

Structure is key when it comes creating the best quality of chocolate. An ideal internal structure will be smooth and continuous, not crumbly, and result in glossy, delicious, melt-in-your-mouth decadence. However, this sweet bliss is not easy to achieve.

Researchers from the University of Guelph had their first look at the detailed structure of dark chocolate using the Canadian Light Source (CLS) at the University of Saskatchewan. Their results were published today in Nature Communications.

“One of the major problems in chocolate making is tempering,” said Alejandro Marangoni, a professor at the University of Guelph and Canada Research Chair in Food, Health and Aging. “Very much like when you temper steel, you have to achieve a certain crystalline structure in the cocoa butter.”

Skilled chocolate makers use specialized tools and training to manipulate cocoa butter for gourmet chocolate. However, Marangoni wondered if adding a special ingredient to chocolate could drive the formation of the correct crystal structure without the complex cooling and mixing procedures typically used by chocolatiers during tempering.

Read more on the Canadian Light Source website

Image: Dr. Saeed Ghazani tempering chocolate. Dept. Food Science University of Guelph.

A new approach creates an exceptional single-atom catalyst for water splitting

Anchoring individual iridium atoms on the surface of a catalytic particle boosted its performance in carrying out a reaction that’s been a bottleneck for sustainable energy production.

A new way of anchoring individual iridium atoms to the surface of a catalyst increased its efficiency in splitting water molecules to record levels, scientists from the Department of Energy’s SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory and Stanford University reported today.

It was the first time this approach had been applied to the oxygen evolution reaction, or OER ­–part of a process called electrolysis that uses electricity to split water into hydrogen and oxygen. If powered by renewable energy sources, electrolysis could produce fuels and chemical feedstocks more sustainably and reduce the use of fossil fuels. But the sluggish pace of OER has been a bottleneck to improving its efficiency so it can compete in the open market.

The results of this study could ease the bottleneck and open new avenues to observing and understanding how these single-atom catalytic centers operate under realistic working conditions, the research team said.

They published their results today in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Read more on the SLAC website

Image: An illustration depicts a new system developed at SLAC and Stanford that anchors individual iridium atoms to the surface of a catalyst, increasing its efficiency at splitting water to record levels. The eight-sided support structures, shaded in blue, each contain a single iridium atom (large blue spheres). The iridium atoms grab passing water molecules (floating above and to the left of them), and encourage them to react with each other, releasing oxygen molecules (above and to the right). This reaction, known as the oxygen evolution reaction or OER, plays a key role in producing sustainable fuels and chemicals.

Credit: Greg Stewart/SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory

One year of ESRF-EBS

One year ago, the ESRF switched on its Extremely Brilliant Source (EBS), a revolutionary new high-energy, fourth-generation synchrotron light source, a €150m project over 2015-2022 funded by ESRF’s 22 partner countries.

An accelerator physics dream saw the light with the launch of the world’s brightest synchrotron source, ESRF-EBS, inspiring many constructions and upgrades of synchrotron light sources around the world. Thanks to its enhanced performances, EBS has opened new vistas for X-rays science, enabling scientists to bring X-ray science into research domains and applications that could not have been imagined a few years ago, and providing invaluable new insight into the microscopic and atomic structure of living matter and materials in all their complexity.

Today, the ESRF celebrates one year of user operation of EBS and one year of exciting new science. “Europe can be proud of this masterpiece of state-of-the-art technology and scientific vision,” says Helmut Dosch, Chair of the ESRF Council.

Read more on the ESRF website

Image: Exterior view of the ESRF-EBS in Grenoble, France

Credit: ESRF

Diamond helps discover microscopic metallic particles in the brain

A UK-led international team of researchers has discovered elemental metallic copper and iron in the human brain for the first time. The team, comprised of scientists from Keele University and the University of Warwick in collaboration with the University of Texas at San Antonio (UTSA), used Diamond, and the Advanced Light Source located in California (USA) to identify elemental metallic copper and magnetic elemental iron within the amyloid plaques, chemical forms of copper and iron previously undocumented in human biology.

The study, published in Science Advances and funded by the UKRI’s Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council, looked at amyloid plaques isolated from the brain tissue of deceased Alzheimer’s patients. Amyloid plaques, a hallmark feature of Alzheimer’s disease, act as a site of disrupted metal chemistry in the Alzheimer’s brain, and are believed by many to be integral to disease progression.

Read more on Diamond website

Image: X-ray microscope images and X-ray absorption spectra obtained from two Alzheimer’s disease plaque cores, measured at Diamond’s beamline I08. Image: Science Advances.

Credit: Science Advances.

X-rays get a grip on why erucamide slips

X-Ray Reflectivity measurements offer insights into a slippery industrial additive

Slip additives have a wide range of industrial uses, finding their way into everything from lubricants to healthcare products. Fatty acid amides have been used as slip additives since the 1960s, and erucamide is widely used in polymer manufacturing. Research into erucamide migration and distribution and its nanomechanical properties has shown that the assembly and performance of the slip-additive surface depend on concentration and application method, as well as the substrate surface chemistry. However, questions remain regarding the nanostructure of organised erucamide surface layers, including the molecular orientation of the outermost erucamide layer. In work recently published in the Journal of Colloid and Interface Science, a team of researchers from the University of Bristol and Procter & Gamble used a combination of techniques to investigate the erucamide nanostructure formed in a model system. Their findings will allow the use of rigorous scientific methods in real-world scenarios. 

Essential erucamide

Manufacturers use slip additives to modify the surface structure of a wide range of materials, reducing friction without compromising the material’s other properties (e.g. modulus). Slip additives are included in everything from food packaging and textiles, dyes and lubricants, to hygiene products such as nappies.

Read on the Diamond website

Image:Multiscale characterisation of polypropylene (PP) fibre vs polypropylene fibre + 1.5 % erucamide: (A) Optical microscopy, (B) Scanning Electron Microscopy, (C) Atomic Force Microscopy (height image)

Rotation and axial motion system IV (RAMS IV) load frame

In spring 2021, the fourth generation of Rotation and Axial Motion System (RAMS IV) load frame was commissioned with X-rays at the Structural Materials Beamline (SMB)

WHAT DID THE SCIENTISTS DO?

The main objectives of commissioning were to enable communication between the existing control system of the beamline (SPEC) and the new control system of RAMS IV (Aerotech), and to synchronize triggering of X-ray detectors with positions of the rotation stages on RAMS IV. To this end, a number of new scripts were written and tested for both SPEC and Aerotech for executing commands, exchanging experimental parameters, interlocking and “handshaking” between the two systems. During the last few days of commissioning, a series of X-ray measurements were performed on a sample mounted on RAMS IV to test the main functionalities of the new load frame.

WHAT ARE THE BROADER IMPACTS OF THIS WORK?

The RAMS load frame series collectively form the gold standard for high-impact, precision in-situ X-ray mechanical testing at high-energy synchrotrons. The longstanding collaboration between Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL) and Pulseray Inc. has delivered a new design and controls system.

Two RAMS IV frames were built: (1) a CHESS design for in-situ X-ray studies, and (2) an AFRL design for ex-situ studies. The AFRL machine can be used for ex-situ proof-of-concept, preparatory loading, or longer mechanical loading tests that can complement and inform work that is done in situ on the CHESS machine.

RAMS IV is optimized for simultaneous tension, torsion, and fatigue loading. Torsion and fatigue loadings are new features over the second generation of RAMS (RAMS II) that has been (and is still being) used with many user experiments at CHESS.

Read more on the CHESS website

Image: Staff Scientists Kelly Nygren and Peter Ko worked in tandem with AFRL to commission the RAMS IV