Monthly Archives: September 2017

LAAMP at the World Science Forum

Dr Michele Zema, IUCr and Dr Jean-Paul Ngome-Abiaga, UNESCO

Synchrotron light sources are comparable to super microscopes that probe the inner structure of matter. They produce very intense pulses of light (from infrared radiation to X-rays), with wavelengths and intensities that allow detailed studies of objects ranging in size from human cells to viruses and proteins, down to atoms, with a precision that is not possible by other means. They allow researchers to investigate the structure and properties of a wide range of materials, from proteins to provide information for designing new and better drugs, probing novel materials for biotechnology, analyzing soils for green agriculture, to engineering applications, and the examination of archeological artifacts.

Because of their high costs and multidisciplinary use, large-scale synchrotron light sources facilities provide strong opportunities for integration through networking and cost-sharing, and promote multi-disciplinary collaboration with the wider global community, while promoting science diplomacy and peace at large.

Thus, light sources have become prime enablers of scientific and technological progress and innovation, conducive to sustainable development in line with the United Nations 2030 Agenda.

Through a project entitled Utilisation of light source and crystallographic sciences to facilitate the enhancement of knowledge and improve the economic and social conditions in targeted regions of the world, the International Council for Science (ICSU) is partnering with the International Union of Pure and Applied Physics (IUPAP) and the International Union of Crystallography (IUCr) to enhance Advanced Light Sources (AdLS) and crystallographic sciences in Africa, Mexico and Caribbean and Middle East (LAAMP).

You can read more about the LAAMP project here and its kick-off meeting at IUCr2017 here.

A thematic session by LAAMP entitled “Light sources and crystallographic sciences for sustainable development” has been approved to be part of the programme of the next World Science Forum which will be held at the King Hussein Bin Talal Convention Centre, Dead Sea, Jordan, November 7-11, 2017.

The session will showcase how light sources have revolutionized research in many science and technology disciplines, and has successfully contributed to the socio-economic development of countries and regions by:

  • Creating international scientific communities
  • Improving education and creating new job opportunities
  • Discussing next steps following the establishment of light sources in the South (mainly Africa and Latin America) while learning from the experience of SESAME
  • Increasing awareness for decision-makers of the major advances light sources can bring to regions and the identification of the best locations for the sustainable development of such infrastructure
  • Advocating, through global initiatives such as the International Year of Crystallography and the International Year of Light
  • Developing a critical mass of highly qualified human capital (including the African science diaspora) needed to reach the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and regional framework agreements like the African Union Agenda 2063

The overall objective of the session is to portray a scalable model for light sources initiatives in the developing regions. The outcome is designed to empower and inspire researchers, scientists, engineers, technologists and policy makers to take proactive roles in their countries and regions to drive towards a densified science cooperation to improve international relations between countries and to develop the human capacity that enables researchers in the Global South to get the most from light sources, and to be meaningful contributors to the 2030 Agenda for sustainable development.



IUCr 2017 Hyderabad:Blog Day 8, Monday 28 August:Closing with culture

Dr Clare Sansom, Department of Biological Sciences,  Birkbeck College, London, UK

It is an appalling cliché, but of course a true one, to say that all good things must come to an end. And this, of course, includes IUCr conferences. After an intense programme of first-class science lasting a bit over a week, the 24th International Union of Crystallography congress ended on August 28 with the third plenary lecture. The topic for this final plenary, by Giacomo Chiari from the Getty Conservation Institute, Los Angeles, USA, illustrated the breadth as well as the depth of our subject: his title was ‘Crystallography in Art and Cultural Heritage’.

Chiari began an engaging lecture by describing his feeling when he received the invitation to be one of the plenary speakers as “like you might feel when your data start proving your hypothesis”. He dedicated the talk to fellow Italian crystallographer Davide Viterbo, an emeritus professor at Universitá del Piemonte Orientale, Alessandria, Italy and a past president of the Italian Crystallographic Association, who died last May. He then explained that crystallography and heritage overlap in two ways – in the depiction of crystals in artworks and in the use of crystallographic techniques to understand and preserve them – and that his lecture would be principally concerned with the second.

But what is ‘cultural heritage’, anyway? One useful concise definition is “every material testament regarding [man] and [his] cultures”. The key word here is ‘material’; thus, Shakespeare’s plays themselves are not part of cultural heritage, although a First Folio – or any other physical copy – will be. And although it is not restricted to ‘high’ culture, objects must have significance. It is difficult to argue a case for preserving an ‘ordinary’ shopping-list, unless (for example) it is a list of pigments that Michelangelo gave to his servant. People who study contemporary culture frequently encounter the problem that some artefacts of genuine interest, such as film sets, were not designed to be preserved.

For most of the rest of his lecture, Chiari gave examples of how crystallographic techniques are used to study artefacts and the technology that had been used to make them. Some of the earliest of these were the polished ‘green stone’ axes that were developed in the Neolithic period and that were the first tools that were strong enough to cut down trees. Neutron diffraction has been used to analyse the surface textures of these axes and thence to try to deduce the technologies used to make them.

Coming much closer to the present day, the first commercially successful photographs were images exposed onto light-sensitive silver plates, known as daguerreotypes.  These were produced during the mid-19th century, with the oldest being the most valuable. In about 1860 the deposition process changed from cladding to electroplating; the latter process creates a micro-crystalline image with a preferred orientation, and this can be detected – and the daguerreotype dated to after 1860 – using a diffractometer. A similar process can be used to detect whether gilded medieval paintings were ‘touched up’ centuries later.

Lapis lazuli is a deep blue metamorphic rock that was prized throughout antiquity for its colour. It was one of the most expensive of the pigments available to medieval artists and for some centuries later. X-ray diffraction can be used to identify subtle differences between batches of this and other early pigments, to detect layers of painting-over and sometimes even to distinguish between artists by the exact hues they used.

In thanking Chiari for his fascinating lecture, conference chair Gautam Desiraju reflected on the interdisciplinary nature of the congress, with a programme designed to cross the ‘divide’ between structural chemists and structural biologists. This plenary, however, which had been organised by the relatively new IUCr Commission on Art and Cultural Heritage, had taken interdisciplinarity to a new level. He hoped that it had opened delegates’ eyes to a new aspect of their subject.

Desiraju then led into the conference’s closing ceremony. He thanked all participants on behalf of the local organising committee for contributing to the meeting’s success, stressing, again, the number and diversity of delegates and presenters. The IUCr is flourishing and taking on new projects. There will now be a W.H. and W.L. Bragg Prize – awarded to crystallographers relatively early in their careers – to complement the Ewald Prize, and funds will be available for supporting crystallography and crystallographers in Africa, South-East Asia and Latin America. The newly-established Associates’ Programme now allows individuals to contribute directly to the Union and to have a real stake in its success. These initiatives will be overseen by a new executive committee with Sven Lidin becoming the new President and Marvin Hackert stepping aside – but not down – into the role of immediate Past President. And there is a significant change in the Union’s office in Chester, UK: the Hyderabad meeting marked the retirement of its inexhaustible Executive Secretary, Mike Dacombe.

Lidin, Hackert and other members of the Executive Committee, joined Desiraju on the stage for one last, and very pleasant, duty: the award of no fewer than 26 poster prizes, far too many to be listed here. The judges must have had a very hard job to pick those winners from a field of about 700 largely excellent posters. The very end of the closing ceremony saw the handover of the baton to the next host city, Prague. The 25th IUCr Congress and General Assembly will be held there from August 22-30, 2020 and this blogger is greatly looking forward to being there.


Addendum: Dragons’ Den Session 2 Winners

The Dragons’ Den competition for young crystallographers’ research ideas took place over two sessions, with two prizes awarded at the end of each one. The first session was reported on in depth on Day 4 of this blog. In the spirit of fairness, I now name the equally deserved winners of the second heat, held on Saturday 26th, here. They were both postdocs: the prize sponsored by Springer Nature went to G. Subramanian and the one donated by the meeting’s local organising committee to S. G. Ramesh.