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Where the LCLS Ends: The SXR Beamline
Structural Molecular Biology Summer School Provides Hands-on Experience

SLAC Today

Monday - September 14, 2009

Where the LCLS Ends: The SXR Beamline

(Photo - the SXR team)
From left to right: Michael Holmes, Bill Schlotter, Plamen Velikov, Andrew Ringwall and Michael Rowen. (Photo by Brad Plummer.)

The Linac Coherent Light Source beam will pack a wallop, providing 10 trillion X-ray photons in a flash of about 100 femtoseconds. For comparison, it takes today's best storage-ring-based synchrotron radiation facilities a full second to provide that many photons. Beginning next spring, researchers will begin to conduct experiments with these powerful bursts of X-ray light using the Soft X-Ray instrument, located on the second LCLS beamline to begin operation.

"The SXR is very versatile—perhaps the most versatile of all the LCLS beamlines," said SXR Instrument Scientist Bill Schlotter. Schlotter just returned to SLAC after two years at FLASH, the free electron laser currently in operation at the German physics laboratory DESY.

Unlike the other five LCLS instruments, which have large dedicated end stations, the end of the SXR beamline will contain a valve and empty space. Users will bring their own instrumentation, rolling their experimental setups into the hutch and connecting them to the valve to access the LCLS' powerful X-rays.

"Some future users may already have end stations that they use at, say, DESY's FLASH," said SXR Beamline Engineer Michael Rowen. "They may bring instrumentation from these to the SXR beamline, or modify other instrumentation for use here."  Read more...

Structural Molecular Biology Summer School Provides Hands-on Experience

(Photo - SMB Summer School student and teacher)
Students receive hands-on training in data analysis during the SMB Summer School program. (Photo by Lauren Knoche.)

The Stanford Synchrotron Radiation Lightsource Structural Molecular Biology Summer School at SLAC wrapped up Friday after a full four days of lectures and hands-on training in data analysis. Participants ranged from graduate students and postdocs to early-career scientists interested in learning about X-ray light experiments that help identify the form and function of biological molecules.

"The summer school showcases three different biology experiments that you can do with a synchrotron," said SLAC employee Ritimukta Sarangi, who along with Clyde Smith and Thomas Weiss organized the SMB Summer School. "We want students to know the skills and techniques that are available," Sarangi said. The summer school takes place every two years.

This summer's program brought together 25 participants from the U.S. and Europe to explore three experimental techniques called macromolecular crystallography, small angle X-ray scattering and X-ray absorption spectography. All three approaches allow scientists to study the structure of biological molecules using X-rays from a synchrotron. Students indicated on their summer school applications which techniques interested them the most. Participants received hands-on training sessions for basic data analysis using their chosen technique. "Students go away with a basic knowledge of analyzing data and can interpret papers that they read which involve these analysis," Sarangi said.

The program highlights capabilities of the Stanford Synchrotron Radiation Lightsource user facilities, and informs potential future users. "We encourage the students to apply for beam time," Sarangi said. "We can help students design an experiment or assist those who may have an experiment in mind."

(Photo - SMB Summer School lecture)
SMB Summer School lecture in SLAC's Redwood Rooms. (Photo by Lauren Knoche.)

Matt Langston and Elizabeth Onderko are both second year graduate students at Pennsylvania State University studying heme proteins and their intermediate states during reactions. Both have assisted in data analysis from X-ray absorption experiments with researchers at Penn State prior to attending the 2009 summer school to learn the process for themselves. "We want to get our hands dirty and improve our data analysis techniques" Langston said.

The summer school offered not only insight into their own research projects, but a chance to forge relationships within the scientific community. "I want to meet as many people as I can, ask the questions I've got and learn the answers," said James Taylor, a postdoctoral research fellow of biological sciences at the University of Portsmouth, UK.

The SMB Summer School will also benefit participants' home institutions, such as the University of Portsmouth, which has facilities for X-ray diffraction and laser light scattering experimentation. "I want to take back as much information as I can and pass it on to my colleagues," Taylor said.


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