Remote access for single-crystal diffraction now a reality

First users open the door to super-efficient small molecule synchrotron research

Diamond’s users can now control single-crystal diffraction experiments without even setting foot in the facility. Thanks to recent hardware and software developments on the Small-Molecule Single-Crystal Diffraction beamline (I19), users can run experiments from their own computers and collect single-crystal datasets in as little as 5 minutes.

The first users to take advantage of this new system were from Newcastle University; 278 miles away from Diamond and a 5 hour journey on a good day. According to the group’s coordinator, Dr Mike Probert: “We now know we can successfully control the experiments from our offices here, and with the recent upgrades we can collect the same number of datasets in one hour that last year would have taken us 24 hours.”

With remote access now a proven working model, small molecule single-crystal diffraction can now be opened up to academic and industrial users the world over.

  • Run experiments remotely with NoMachine
  • Faster sample changing with robot mounter and cryo-loader
  • Optional data conversion to standard Bruker image format
Figure 1: Natalie Johnson from Dr Probert's research group operating I19 from her desk at Newcastle University.
Single-crystal X-ray diffraction techniques are considered the definitive means of determining the structure of a molecular material. Applications extend across energy storage and carbon capture, pharmaceutical science, and superconductors. The researchers from Newcastle University’s School of Chemistry were working on a number of different samples, from inorganic materials to complex bioactive natural products.
Due to their size and at times structural complexity, small molecule crystals often produce a scattering signal too weak for conventional X-ray sources. This is where the power of the synchrotron comes in. Dr Probert and his team create crystal samples in their home labs and set aside those unsuitable for their own X-ray source. These are mounted on pins and shipped to Diamond in a dry dewar at approximately -190°C ready for loading when the beamtime session starts.
Dr Probert, who coordinates the block allocation to Diamond for a joint Newcastle and Durham user group, has worked on I19 over the last few years and sees this as a landmark moment for the beamline: “Increasing efficiency is the name of the game here, and sample preparation and shipping are two key players. But it’s the addition of the robot sample changer and cryogenic loading system that have really provided the step change on I19. The speed and ease of changing samples combined with the remote access mean we can really make the most of our beamtime.”
Dr Harriott Nowell, Senior Beamline Scientist for I19, has been working on getting the robot operational for remote access. She said: “With the robot now in place, users can collect diffraction data on up to 80 samples without anyone having to enter the hutch more than once. The robotic automation, together with the cryogenic sample handling, is set to provide an efficient way forward for remote access beamtime.”
I19’s Principal Beamline Scientist, Dr Dave Allan, sees the remote access route as a way to enable more scientists to use the facility: “With users now able to ship their samples and collect their data remotely, we can look at offering more beamtime sessions over a 24-hour period.”
Figure 2: Principal Beamline Scientist, Dr Dave Allan observing the sample holder and robot arm.


To find out more about remote access on I19, or to discuss potential applications to the beamline, please contact Dr Dave Allan: