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SSRL Headlines Vol. 8, No. 11  May, 2008


Contents of this Issue:

  1. Science Highlight — A Case of Molecular Cooperation
  2. Science Highlight — A New Eye on Sulfur in Living Tissues
  3. Brains in the Beam Line
  4. Save the Date October 15-18 for the 2008 LCLS/SSRL Users' Meeting and Workshops
  5. Plans for Soft X-ray Materials Science (SXR)
  6. Call for Nominations for Spicer, Klein and Lytle Awards
  7. New LCLS Website Launched
  8. SSRL Hosts School for Future X-ray Researchers
  9. SSRL Staff Scientist President-elect for the Pittsburgh Diffraction Society

1.  Science Highlight — A Case of Molecular Cooperation
       (contact: A.P. Hinck,

TGF-beta is the founding member of a large family of biological molecules important in regulating cellular growth and differentiation, both in embryos as well as adults. Now, using x-ray diffraction at SSRL's Beam Line 11-1 for macromolecular crystallography, Groppe, Hinck, and colleagues from the University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio have determined the structure of TGF-beta in complex with two of its cellular receptors, a finding that could lead to new insight as to how it functions as a suppressor of cell growth and as a stimulator of cell differentiation, processes which go awry in
tgfb figure
Different modes of receptor complex assembly by TGF-bs and BMPs.
diseases such as cancer. The results are published in the February 1 edition of Molecular Cell.

TGF-beta is known to bind simultaneously to two receptors on the outside of cells called Type I and Type II receptors, and a complex of all three is required for the TGF-beta to perform its biological function. The recent study reveals that to form this complex, TGF-beta first binds to the Type II receptor, and the two molecules then cooperate to bind and recruit the Type I receptor through a composite interface.

The study also shows that TGF-beta and its receptors are nearly identical to others within the same protein family, namely the bone morphogenetic proteins (BMP) and the BMP receptors, yet in spite of their physical similarities, the two receptor complexes form in ways that are entirely distinct. Because BMPs are evolutionarily much more ancient, this difference provides insight into the evolution of organisms on the molecular level.

To learn more about this research see the full scientific highlight at:

2.  Science Highlight — A New Eye on Sulfur in Living Tissues
       (contacts: M. Gnida,; G.N. George,

MDCK figure
Taurine uptake into MDCK cells.
Sulfur is essential for life, playing important roles in metabolism and protein structure and function. Although information on sulfur biochemistry is highly desirable, it is an element that is difficult to study as it is not easily accessible with most biophysical techniques. However, sulfur x-ray absorption spectroscopy (XAS) is one such method and has become increasingly used for the study of sulfur in biological systems. Recently, a group of researchers from Stanford University, the University of Saskatchewan, SSRL, and ExxonMobil used SSRL's Beam Line 6-2 for an in situ sulfur XAS study of living mammalian cell cultures.

The scientists examined the uptake of taurine in specific cells as a function of time, dose and polarity. Taurine is a sulfur-containing (sulfonic) acid which is present in high concentrations in animal organs and which has been implicated as a component in diverse physiological actions, in particular in osmoregulation (the active regulation of the pressure/cell volumes in bodily fluids). The cells were of a common biological cell line known as Madin-Darby canine kidney (MDCK) cells. This cell line develops into a specially arranged single layer of cells that exhibits the characteristics of kidney cells when cultured on polycarbonate membranes. Significant information was retrieved by following the "sulfonate feature" of taurine in the XAS spectra of the cell cultures, demonstrating that there was a considerable amount of taurine accumulation within the cells as a function of time, and that the uptake was mainly taking place at a certain location at the cell surface.

To learn more about this research see the full scientific highlight at:

3.   Brains in the Beam Line
       —SLAC Today article by Madolyn Rogers

Scientists at the beam line
Uwe Bergmann and Helen Nichol position human brain slices for rapid scanning at SSRL.
From x-rays to MRIs, advances in physics have been instrumental in improving human health. A new imaging technique developed at SLAC by Senior Staff Scientist Uwe Bergmann and his team may represent the next big advance for biological imaging. The method is currently being used to study neurodegenerative diseases, but may soon be applied to answer all kinds of medical questions.

The new method, called biological rapid scanning or XRF, uses the intense x-rays generated at SSRL to reveal the identities of trace elements in a scanned sample. The new technique is an advance over earlier microprobe x-ray images because it's very fast, scanning in one hour what used to take nearly 12 days to image.

"Biological rapid scanning is complementary to other imaging techniques and should be used with other techniques," Bergmann said. XRF provides lower resolution than the microprobe technique, he said, but its speed makes it practical for the first time large samples-such as the human brain-are scanned. Read more at:

User Mtg banner

4.   Save the Date October 15-18 for the 2008 LCLS/SSRL Users' Meeting and Workshops

Mark your calendar and plan to participate in the 2008 LCLS/SSRL Users' Meeting and Workshops which will be held here at SLAC October 15-18, 2008. The annual event is a valuable opportunity to learn about the latest plans, new developments and exciting user research at LCLS and SSRL. It is also a great time to interact with other scientists, staff, potential colleagues, and vendors of light source-related products and services.

LCLS/SSRL 2008 will begin on October 15 with presentations related to LCLS Science and Instrumentation, LCLS user access policies, updates on LCLS user operations, and a meeting of the LCLS Users' Organization. SSRL Workshop options will be held concurrently on this day, including: Crystallography Made Easy through Automation and Advanced Topics in EXAFS Analysis and Applications.

The joint LCLS/SSRL session on October 16 will feature a keynote presentation by SLAC Director Persis Drell on the Future of Photon Science at SLAC, updates from SLAC and DOE, user science highlights, and a user science poster session. The Spicer Young Investigator Award, Klein Professional Development Award, and Lytle Award will be presented on this day.

SSRL will be the focus of presentations given on October 17 including sessions on Structural Molecular Biology, Materials and Environmental Sciences, and facility updates. The SSRL Users' Organization will meet that afternoon as well.

The following LCLS-related workshops will be held October 17-18: Application of Coherent X-rays at the LCLS, Atomic, Molecular & Optical Physics with the LCLS, and Soft X-ray Instrumentation for LCLS.

The organizers for the 2008 conference include Wayne Lukens (LBNL), Aymeric Robert (LCLS), Riti Sarangi (SSRL), and Linda Young (ANL). Registration will open next month.

5.   Plans for Soft X-ray Materials Science (SXR)
       (contact: A. Nilsson,

Stanford University, the Advanced Light Source, DESY and BESSY have formed a soft x-ray materials science (SXR) consortium with the goal of building a beam line for the LCLS. Funding for the beam line will be provided by the member institutions. Discussion of logistical considerations for the SXR facility is currently in the early stages. The beam line will be open for general users and the consortium expects to include more collaborators as the planning evolves. A workshop is planned for the broader user community in conjunction with the 2008 LCLS/SSRL Users' Meeting:

Joint SSRL/LCLS/ALS Workshop: Soft X-ray Beam Line for Material and Energy Science at LCLS - Date/Time: Saturday October 18, 2008 - 8:00 am - 6:00 pm - Organizers: Andreas Scherz (SIMES), Dennis Nordlund (SSRL), Phil Heimann (LBNL)

This workshop will establish the current status of the LCLS soft x-ray material and energy science collaboration and aims for a coherent effort to make the most compelling science a success, detailing instrument requirements and commissioning. Presentations will cover the scientific areas and the beam line design for the three main experimental setups: coherent diffraction, PES/XES/RIXS, and XAS. Each session will be followed by a directed discussion focusing on instrumentation including unresolved issues, responsibilities and time lines, to be summarized and further revised in the final session.

Details on this workshop and registration for the conference website will be available shortly at Information on the SXR consortium activities will be posted on the SIMES website as they become available, see

6.   Call for Nominations for Spicer, Klein and Lytle Awards
       (contact: C. Knotts,

Please take a few moments to consider nominating your students or colleagues for one or more of the following awards which will be presented at the Joint SSRL and LCLS Users' Meeting, October 15-18, 2008:

Spicer & Doniach
Bill Spicer & Seb Doniach
Submit nominations for the William E. Spicer Young Investigator Award by August 1. The Spicer Award was established in 2004 to honor Bill Spicer (1929-2004), one of the original founders of the Stanford Synchrotron Radiation Project. This award recognizes important technical or scientific accomplishments that benefited from, or are beneficial to, the SSRL. The award is open to senior graduate students and PhDs within seven years of entry into their professional scientific field. The award consists of a certificate and $1,000 as well as waived registration for the recipient to make a presentation at the joint SSRL and LCLS Users' Meeting on October 16. Nominations letters summarizing the technical or scientific contributions of the candidate must be received by August 1; the candidate's CV, list of publications, and supporting letters are also encouraged.

Melvin Klein
In 2006, the SSRL Users' Organization Executive Committee (SSRLUOEC) established a Scientific Development Award to honor Melvin P. Klein (1921-2000), a pioneer at the forefront of accomplishments in NMR, EPR, and x-ray absorption spectroscopy who was dedicated to the pursuit of the structure of the Mn complex characterized by the interplay of these methods. The Melvin P. Klein Scientific Development Award will be given to a student to disseminate scientific results based on work performed at SSRL. The $1,000 Award will provide support for a student to present their work at a scientific conference during the following year. The award also includes a certificate and waived registration for the recipient to present their research at the joint SSRL and LCLS Users' Meeting on October 16. The recipient will be selected by a user subcommittee after review of the nominations. The nomination packages should include a letter of recommendation from the advisor; an abstract written by the candidate describing the experiment and scientific results (not to exceed 300 words); and information on when and where the work is to be presented. Nominations must be received by August 1. Additional instructions and information on making a donation toward this award are available at:

Farrel Lytle
Submit nominations for 2008 Farrel W. Lytle Award by August 15. The Lytle Award was established by the SSRLUOEC to promote important technical or scientific accomplishments in synchrotron radiation-based science and to foster collaboration and efficient use of beam time among users and staff at SSRL. The award consists of a certificate and $1,000. All SSRL users and staff are eligible for this award, which will be selected by the SSRLUOEC, and presented at the annual Users' Meeting on October 16. Nominations summarizing the individual's contributions and why they should be recognized through this award must be sent to Cathy Knotts ( before the August 15 deadline.

7.   New LCLS Website Launched
       —SLAC Today article by Brad Plummer

LCLS website thumbnail
The Linac Coherent Light Source (LCLS) has a new public face and serves as a one-stop location for news and information about all things LCLS. The site aims to provide information about present and future experimental instruments and explores the cutting-edge science to come from the LCLS for a range of visitors, from students to policy makers to potential users interested in submitting scientific proposals. The site underlines the scope of the collaboration building the LCLS, which includes scores of researchers from several institutions. "I can only hope that this site communicates a fraction of the excitement we at SLAC feel as we construct this huge scientific instrument and bring it to its full capability in 2009 and 2010," says Director of LCLS Construction John Galayda in a welcome message posted on the site. "Hundreds of people at SLAC as well as at Argonne National Laboratory, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory and UCLA have been working toward the goal of giving the world's research community this 'gift,'" writes Galayda. "

The new site also features a variety of multimedia elements, including RSS newsfeeds, blogs, podcasts, image galleries, animations and video, giving visitors many ways to follow the evolution of this exciting new facility. Check out the new site for the latest LCLS announcements and events, including links to the LCLS proposal preparation workshops for Atomic, Molecular, and Optical (AMO) Physics on June 2-3 and the X-ray Pump Probe (XPP) Instrument on June 20-21, 2008. The Ultrafast X-ray Summer School will be held June 17-20, 2008.

8.   SSRL Hosts School for Future X-ray Researchers
       —Excerpted from SLAC Today article by Brad Plummer

participants watching demo
SSRL X-ray School co-organizer Sam Webb discusses x-ray absorption with students at Beamline 2-3.
SSRL played host May 20-22 to an international gathering of 43 students and post docs seeking to hone their experimental skills at the School on Synchrotron Radiation X-ray Absorption Spectroscopy (SR-XAS) techniques.

This, the third annual x-ray school in synchrotron x-ray scattering techniques for environmental and materials science, provided a practical users' guide to planning and conducting measurements using SSRL beam lines, and covered important basics such as beam line setup as well as advanced experimental applications.

Unlike the previous two x-ray schools, this week's school focused on giving students an introduction to techniques in x-ray absorption spectroscopy. The previous two x-ray schools focused on x-ray scattering, which is useful in studying both synthetic and natural materials, such as superconductors and proteins. Absorption, by contrast, is used by environmental and materials scientists to characterize the properties of new kinds of materials and to determine how certain compounds behave in different environments and conditions.

"We wanted to give students an introduction to the kind of techniques that may not trickle down from student to student in graduate schools," said SSRL researcher Sam Webb, who co-organized the SR-XAS school along with fellow SSRL staff scientists John Bargar, Mike Toney and Apurva Mehta.

9.   SSRL Staff Scientist President-elect for the Pittsburgh Diffraction Society
       —SLAC Today article by Matt Cunningham

SSRL Staff Scientist Aina Cohen at the beamline
Aina Cohen
Stanford Synchrotron Radiation Laboratory (SSRL) Staff Scientist Aina Cohen recently accepted the role of president-elect for the Pittsburgh Diffraction Society (PDS). Her first task in this role will be organizing the 66th annual Pittsburgh Diffraction Conference (PDC), which will take place October 30 - November 1, 2008. The conference will be preceded by a workshop sponsored by the Hauptman Woodward Institute (HWI), the University of Pittsburgh and SSRL.

The workshop, titled Crystallography Made Easy through Automation, will demonstrate how crystallographic techniques may be simplified by using automated facilities at SSRL and HWI. The conference itself will cover topics relevant to researchers in chemistry, physics and structural biology including diffraction phasing, protein structure refinement, synchrotron data collection and combined methods for structural biology and chemistry research.

"It's definitely an honor to be presiding over such a great conference," Cohen said. "The conference will expose people to the nuts and bolts of crystallography, so they have the opportunity to learn about their own field, but also to explore other fascinating areas of x-ray diffraction."

Curious minds, both young and old, are encouraged to attend the conference, which is the oldest diffraction-related conference in North America.

Over the years, the PDS has built a reputation for encouraging and supporting young scientists. Each year, PDS gives the Sidhu award to outstanding early-career scientists within six years of receiving their PhD. SLAC Photon Science Director Keith Hodgson received the Sidhu award in 1978. In addition, PDS also confers the George Jeffrey award, which funds students' trips to the triennial Congress of the International Union of Crystallography (IUCr) and the Chung Soo Yoo award, given to the best student poster presenter at the annual PDC.

The submission deadline for abstracts to the poster competition will be open until October 1st. For more information on the PDS, its conference and awards, please visit the society's website.


SSRL Headlines is published electronically monthly to inform SSRL users, sponsors and other interested people about happenings at SSRL. SSRL is a national synchrotron user facility operated by Stanford University for the U.S. Department of Energy Office of Basic Energy Sciences. Additional support for the structural biology program is provided by the DOE Office of Biological and Environmental Research, the NIH National Center for Research Resources and the NIH Institute for General Medical Sciences. Additional information about SSRL and its operation and schedules is available from the SSRL WWW site.


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Last Updated: 31 MAY 2008
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