Kate and Conrad’s foray into grazing and reflection with Mike and Bridget

 

While AMN-3 clearly had other impacts on me, the conference had major benefits in terms of advancing one particular area of my research. I was extraordinarily fortunate to have in the audience during the talk I was giving focused on the work of Conrad Lendrum, one of my past PhD students, Michael Toney. Mike hails from SSRL (Stanford Synchrotron Radiation Laboratory), which is part of SLAC (Stanford Linear Accelerator Center, which is part of Stanford University, Palo Alto), California, USA (http://www-ssrl.slac.stanford.edu/), and is an expert in synchrotronbased X-ray techniques.

Conrad’s PhD programme is focused on understanding the interactions between a soft nucleating substrate (a model cellular membrane) and a growing crystal in order to understand the role of cellular membranes in controlling biomineral formation in organisms. His work involves looking at a single layer of molecules on a water surface (a so-called monolayer) and characterising both the monolayer itself under different environmental conditions, how the monolayer responds during the inducement of crystal nucleation on its water side and how the nucleation of the crystals is modifi ed by altering the characteristics of the monolayer (in part, what is the feedback mechanism between the two?).

Mike approached me immediately after the talk and asked if I had ever thought about doing any Grazing Incidence X-ray Diffraction (GIXD) or X-ray Reflectance (XRR) experiments on the systems that they were investigating. These techniques would allow more information to be gained on the system but, more excitingly, the possibility of following the nucleation process and response to the monolayer in real time, something that had never been achieved previously. So, within about 20 minutes of standing up to give a talk, a new international collaboration had been initiated. 

While synchrotron investigations are becoming more common, the combination of GIXD or XRR with fluid monolayers is still enormously specialised, with the experiments only being able to be performed at a couple of synchrotron light sources in the world. Obtaining beam time is extremely difficult. And initially Conrad’s original proposal was declined. However, with Mike’s reputation in the field and his contacts with the beamline staff at the Advanced Photon Source (APS), Argonne National Laboratory in Chicago, USA (http:// www.anl.gov/), Mike worked his magic and the original decision was overturned. Just six months after the AMN-3 conference, Conrad was performing his first synchrotron experiments on the ChenMatCARS 15-ID-C beam line. In addition to Mike, Bridget Ingham, then one of Mike’s post-doctoral fellows, and now a permanent member of staff at IRL also worked on the collection of data.

These first tentative experiments produced some very striking results and formed the framework for a second application for beam time. For the second visit the team got a total of five full 24-hour shifts (again with a bit of help and persuasion from Mike) and so I also went along in April of this year. During this time the team were rewarded with data that shows the real time response of the monolayer during the nucleation and crystal growth processes. With this data and the support of Mike, Conrad and I feel confident that our applications should now be looked upon favourably when time is being allocated and that hopefully in future fewer strings will have to be pulled. But without a doubt the international collaboration spawned from a conference presentation has resulted in a team with exceedingly complementary skills and has allowed the acquisition of data that could not have been obtained using any other technique, pushing the forefront in the field of biomineralisation and soft-template-mediated crystallisation.