Released By: Australian Synchrotron
Release Date: Wed 20 August 2008

Three in a week ain't bad!

Australian Synchrotron reaches milestone 'first light' for three new beamlines.

What a week at the Australian Synchrotron with 3 new beamlines achieving first light. The 3 new beamlines will join the existing 5 beamlines to provide a suite of 8 different diffraction and spectroscopy techniques for use by Australian and New Zealand researchers and international collaborators.

The 3 new beamlines reaching first light are Microspectroscopy; our second Protein X-ray Diffraction beamline (PX 2); and Small Angle and Wide Angle X-ray Scattering beamline or more commonly called SAXS/WAXS.

First light is a singular moment in time when a beam of light first reaches the sample stage at the beamline end station. This is a complex process requiring the light to pass from the storage ring through the opening shutter and then through a series of beam conditioning optics to illuminate a tiny sample in an end station laboratory. What is most rewarding for the principal scientists and their teams who work with these precision instruments is that first light is verification that everything is lined up - allowing the beam to shine through.

First light is the first significant milestone on the way to a fully operational beamline. Like all new machinery a running-in or commissioning phase is now required where all the component parts and support systems will be thoroughly tested to ensure the beamline is working perfectly and will reliably support use by researchers. Expert users are expected to begin conducting experiments on the 3 new beamlines in late November.

Head of Science and Beamline Development Dr David Cookson said - "It has been really exciting to hit this important first milestone for all three beamlines in one week".

The new Micro-X-ray Microprobe (Microspectroscopy) will allow Australian scientists to study the chemistry of selected elements on samples as small as a grain of sand - or an amoeba. By mapping the precise location of heavy metal in a single horse's hair, a facility like this was used to prove that Phar Lap did indeed die of arsenic poisoning.

Protein crystallography has revolutionised biochemistry, as it allows scientists to take extreme close-up views of the building blocks of life. While a single protein molecule may contain fifty thousand atoms, the new PX2 beamline will give Australian scientists the ability to determine the structure of protein/DNA complexes - which can be ten times more complex.

Small and Wide Angle X-ray Scattering (SAXS/WAXS) bridges the size gap between an individual atom and a single bacterium. Crystallography only works well for protein molecules immobilised in single pure crystals - like peering closely at a stuffed animal in a museum. SAXS on the other hand, will allow Australian scientists to look at a fully active protein molecule interacting 'in the wild' - like watching animals from a distance on safari.

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