Online user meetings discuss Corona research and future facility developments

Annual conferences of the Hamburg X-ray sources completely digital for the first time

DESY User's Meeting 2021 online
Christian Schroer presented PETRA IV

Christian Schroer, scoientific head of PETRA III at DESY presented the future project PETRA IV in the context of Hamburg's planned science quarter Science City Hamburg-Bahrenfeld (Credit: DESY).

Due to the Corona pandemic, the annual users' meetings 2021 for the Hamburg X-ray light sources took place completely online for the first time this year. The users of PETRA III and FLASH met from 25 to 29 January at the DESY Photon Science Users' Meeting and traditionally at the same time as the users of the European X-ray laser European XFEL. The interest was undiminished: In total, more than 2000 participants from about 40 countries had registered.

In about 30 lectures, more than a dozen satellite workshops, and with almost 370 scientific posters in a virtual poster session, the participants exchanged information about current research results in numerous disciplines, new developments, and future perspectives. An important topic was, among many others, the various research projects on the coronavirus carried out quickly during the past year, partially thanks to the fast track access to DESY's X-ray sources for corona related research and support from the DESY Strategy Fund (DSF). The pandemic-proof operation of the light sources will be further expanded in the future.

Among other things, results of an extensive X-ray screening of potential drugs against the coronavirus were presented. At PETRA III, around 6,000 active substances from a library that have already been approved or are at least undergoing clinical trials were tested to see whether they bind to and block certain key proteins of the pathogen SARS-CoV-2. The team, coordinated by DESY scientist Alke Meents, could identify 37 compounds that bind to an important viral protein, the main protease. In experiments with infected cell cultures at the Bernhard Nocht Institute for Tropical Medicine in Hamburg, six of these substances significantly slowed down viral replication in the cells. The two most promising candidates are the compounds pelitinib and calpeptin, originally developed as anticancer agents. Further tests are planned.

Using phase-contrast tomography, a team led by Tim Salditt of the University of Göttingen has also screened lung tissue from Covid-19 patients. The high-contrast images of the lung tissue are significantly more detailed than images from a standard clinical CT scanner. “Where I only see a few gray shadows on the CT, on our images I can see how the smallest vessels are branching and how the thin tissue walls of the alveoli are changing,” Salditt explained. Among other things, the images were able to confirm the assumption that Sars-CoV-2 stimulates the formation of new blood vessels in the lungs. However, this rescue response, which is usually helpful, is undone by countless tiny thrombi that massively limit lung function in severe cases of the disease. And additional studies of Covid-19-infected heart tissue indicate a similar mechanism there, although it is unclear what the medical consequences are and to what extent the heart can recover from this damage.

Future plans for the DESY facilities were also discussed at the users' meeting. A new Photon Science Roadmap of the Helmholtz Association (HGF) suggests, amongst others, the expansion of the existing user facility PETRA III into PETRA IV, a storage ring with ultra-small emittance for X-ray microscopic applications and scattering methods in the hard X-ray regime with a focus on the investigation of the atomic structure and function of matter and materials, with a lateral resolution from macroscopic dimensions down to the nanometer range. PETRA IV will be the best 3D X-ray microscope in the world. The Technical Design Report (TDR) is currently being prepared for the project.

For DESY's free-electron laser (FEL) FLASH, the Roadmap suggests an upgrade within the FLASH2020+ project to significantly improve the beam parameters and parallel operation of the two FEL sub-facilities to study the ultrafast dynamics of atomic and molecular excitations with XUV and soft X-ray radiation mainly by spectroscopic methods. Both DESY facilities together are used by about 3000 guest scientists per year. “With the upgrade of our X-ray sources, we want to continue to provide the users of our facilities with unique opportunities at the frontier of what is technically feasible, in order to be able to contribute to solving future challenges of the society,” emphasized DESY's Director for Photon Science, Edgar Weckert.

(from DESY News)


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