ESS Support Laboratory Opens Pilot Call for Proposals in Preparation for First Science

 Zoë Fisher
 Zoë Fisher in the ESS test lab at Lund University's Biology Dept PHOTO: Roger Eriksson, ESS

The construction of ESS's DEMAX has been completed as planned and a pilot call for scientific proposals is now open

The ESS support laboratory for deuteration and macromolecular crystallisation, DEMAX, successfully finished its construction scope as planned in 2018. A pilot call for scientific proposals is now open in order to gradually establish a system that runs smoothly in time for the first science to be performed on ESS instruments. The service will support small-angle neutron scattering, reflectometry, single-crystal diffraction, and spectroscopy – all of which are planned for early operations.

“These techniques for sample preparation are required for all the early instruments, covering science topics as diverse as chemistry, materials science, soft matter research and life science”, says ESS Director for Science Andreas Schreyer. “Piloting this service now allows us to hit the ground running when the first instruments are installed, and demonstrate to the world what ESS is capable of.”

The brilliant neutron source and next-generation instruments under development at ESS attract much attention, but they alone do not deliver high-impact science. One obvious bottle-neck for experimental success is the quality and character of the samples placed in the beam. Quite sophisticated techniques have been developed over the years to prepare samples for neutron studies, and facilities around the world are recognising the need to work actively with users in refining sample preparations to ensure the best possible output from the instruments. This is particularly true in soft matter research, life science, and many aspects of material science, including urgent areas like energy materials.

Two key areas of advanced sample preparation are selective deuteration and macromolecular crystallisation, both covered by the DEMAX scope. DEMAX scientist Hanna Wacklin-Knecht explains: “Selective deuteration of samples in combination with neutron scattering provides a powerful labelling technique that can reveal structural and functional information that no other method can. We can use this to extract information from seemingly hopelessly complex samples. Examples include dispersions of interest for the food industry, multi-component drug targets and exploratory materials with a variety of applications.”

Zoe Fisher Oryx8

Zoë Fisher and the Oryx8 Robot

Photo: Roger Eriksson, ESS

Furthermore, macromolecular crystallisation has proven a revolutionary tool to extract information from biological molecules using synchrotron radiation, resulting in pharmaceutical advances and a number of Nobel prizes. This method has been making slower but steady gains with neutron methods as well, and the high neutron brilliance of ESS is expected to change the game, releasing the power of neutron macromolecular crystallography. DEMAX will be ready to enable this development.

The DEMAX pilot call offers an initial range of services in biological and chemical deuteration as well as support for crystallisation, and the first users will probe the samples delivered by DEMAX at other facilities that offer neutrons today. The pilot will allow DEMAX staff to streamline the logistics of user service, building experience and gradually expanding the range of services offered.

“Facilities that offer crystallisation and deuteration support have proven very successful in attracting new users and delivering impact in soft matter and life science research,” says Zoë Fisher, Head of DEMAX. “Developing advanced support labs goes hand-in-hand with developing advanced instruments in order to deliver cutting-edge science. But it’s quite complicated, and setting up these services takes several years. This is why we begin now in a small scale, to get the experience we need and to get the functions up and running in time to enable first science. We’re very pleased to invite the science community to take part in this development by submitting proposals”.

The call can be found here.

More information about DEMAX can be found here: