SSRL Science Highlights Archive

Approximately 1,700 scientists visit SSRL annually to conduct experiments in broad disciplines including life sciences, materials, environmental science, and accelerator physics. Science highlights featured here and in our monthly newsletter, Headlines, increase the visibility of user science as well as the important contribution of SSRL in facilitating basic and applied scientific research. Many of these scientific highlights have been included in reports to funding agencies and have been picked up by other media. Users are strongly encouraged to contact us when exciting results are about to be published. We can work with users and the SLAC Office of Communication to develop the story and to communicate user research findings to a much broader audience. Visit SSRL Publications for a list of the hundreds of SSRL-related scientific papers published annually. Contact us to add your most recent publications to this collection.


July 2023
Stephen Ragsdale, University of Michigan, Ritimukta Sarangi, Stanford Synchrotron Radiation Lightsource

In the Wood-Ljungdahl pathway (WLP), nature has devised one of the most elegant methods for the chemical transformation of carbon.1 The WLP is ancient, present in the last universal common ancestor to life on earth and is the only carbon fixation pathway known to produce more energy than is consumed in terms of net ATP. The WLP functions to scrub our atmosphere of the key greenhouse gas CO2, utilizing the carbon for energy and for the creation of cellular building material. This process occurs within the context of a large multi-unit protein complex made of carbon monoxide dehydrogenase (CODH) and acetyl-CoA synthase (ACS) in conjunction with a separate corrinoid iron-sulfur protein (CFeSP), which donates a methyl group to the ACS active site, resulting in the formation of acetate in the form of acetyl-CoA from the original CO2 molecule.

X-ray Absorption Spectroscopy
March 2023

Designing customized proteins that have particular biological functions is of great interest to scientists working to develop disease therapies and diagnostics. While the functionality of proteins often involves physical shapes fitting together, the chemical qualities of the molecular surfaces make engineering these interactions complicated.

Macromolecular Crystallography
December 2022

The omicron variant of COVID-19 was identified in the fall of 2021. It stood out from all of the other variants because of the many mutations that simultaneously occurred in its spike protein1. So far, surveillance and bioinformatics have been the main scientific tools in tracking COVID-19 evolution. Eventually, however, understanding COVID-19 evolution comes down to understanding the functions of key viral mutations. This is where structural biology kicks in and plays a critical role in tracking COVID-19 evolution.

October 2022
Bruce C. Gates, University of California, Davis

Many practical catalysts, illustrated by those used for fossil fuel conversion and vehicle exhaust clean-up, consist of expensive noble metals dispersed on high-area porous solid supports. When the metals are atomically dispersed and isolated from each other, they offer new properties and the highest efficiency of metal use—with each metal atom accessible to reacting molecules. But applications of supported noble metal catalysts are usually limited by the loss of accessibility of reactants to the metals that results from metal aggregation (sintering) during operation. Sintering can be suppressed by anchoring the metal atoms strongly to metal oxide supports, but strong metal–oxygen interactions often leave too few metal sites available for reactant binding and catalysis.

X-ray Absorption Spectroscopy
BL4-3, BL9-3
August 2022
Tobias V. Lanz, Stanford University, William H. Robinson, Stanford University

Multiple sclerosis (MS) is a heterogeneous autoimmune disease in which autoreactive lymphocytes and antibodies attack the myelin sheath of the central nervous system (CNS). B lymphocytes in the cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) of MS patients contribute to inflammation and secrete oligoclonal immunoglobulins1,2. Epstein-Barr virus (EBV) infection has been linked to MS epidemiologically, but its pathological role remains unclear3,4.

Macromolecular Crystallography
June 2022
Su-Di Chen, SIMES, Stanford University, Makoto Hashimoto, Stanford Synchrotron Radiation Lightsource, Donghui Lu, Stanford Synchrotron Radiation Lightsource, Zhi-Xun Shen, SIMES, Stanford University

An unconventional new class of superconducting materials discovered 35 years ago was met with much excitement.  These materials, known as copper oxides or cuprates, conducted electricity with no resistance or loss when chilled below a certain point – but at much higher temperatures than scientists had thought possible. This raised hopes of getting them to work at close to room temperature for perfectly efficient power lines and other uses. Research quickly confirmed that they showed two more classic traits of the transition to a superconducting state: As superconductivity developed, the material expelled magnetic fields, so that a magnet placed on a chunk of the material would levitate above the surface. And its heat capacity – the amount of heat needed to raise their temperature by a given amount – showed a distinctive anomaly at the transition. Despite decades of effort with a variety of experimental tools, the fourth signature, which can be seen only on a microscopic scale, remained elusive.

Angle-resolved photoelectron spectroscopy
June 2022
Uwe Bergmann, University of Wisconsin-Madison , Dimosthenis Sokaras, Stanford Synchrotron Radiation Lightsource

A collection of native Australian plant resins sampled over one hundred years ago serves as a time capsule for scientists to study using modern techniques. The well-annotated and well-preserved samples by unknown collectors feature four species important to Aboriginal Australian technology and culture going back tens of thousands of years. A team of scientists employed advanced x-ray spectroscopy to decipher the molecular composition of this unique collection of samples.

XANES microscopy, X-ray scattering
June 2022
Jun-Sik Lee, Stanford Synchrotron Radiation Lightsource

In the ongoing quest for a room-temperature superconductor, scientists are examining the normal, or ground, state of the highest temperature superconductors currently known. It is thought that understanding the particularities of the normal state in these materials, for example the mysterious pseudogap phase, would give clues to how to engineer materials that can lead to superconducting behavior at even higher temperatures. When studying the normal state, especially its ground state, the superconducting state needs to be quenched; otherwise it will interfere. Two established methods for quenching the superconducting state are applying an external magnetic field and using an optical pump, but the relationship between the states achieved by these two methods is unclear.

X-ray scattering
April 2022

Junctophilins (JPHs) are protein molecules that initiate junctions between the endoplasmic reticulum or sarcoplasmic reticulum and the plasma membrane of eukaryotic cells, enabling communication. Humans make four isoforms of JPH, which are expressed in different cell types. In heart muscle cells, isoform JPH2 is critical for converting electrical signals to a calcium ion signal that causes the cell to contract. 

Macromolecular Crystallography
April 2022
Chu-Young Kim, University of Texas at El Paso, Saket R. Bagde, Cornell University, Irimpan Mathews, Stanford Synchrotron Radiation Lightsource

Polyketides are a diverse and important category of molecules with various functions including antibiotic, immunosuppressant, and antitumor. Some polyketides have great medical and economic value. One type of polyketide synthase (PKS), the enzymes that make polyketides, is called type I modular PKS.

Macromolecular Crystallography
BL7-1, BL9-2, BL12-2, BL14-1


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