126 127 D I A M O N D L I G H T S O U R C E A N N U A L R E V I E W 2 0 2 1 / 2 2 D I A M O N D L I G H T S O U R C E A N N U A L R E V I E W 2 0 2 1 / 2 2 Addressing Global Health and Energy Challenges with START I n June 2021, we celebrated the achievements of the Synchrotron Techniques for African Research and Technology (START) programme 1 . Funded by a £3.7M Global Challenges Research Fund (GCRF) grant provided by the UK’s Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC), theGCRF START programme equipped labs, supported researchposts, and trained early-career scientists in theUKandAfrica from2018 to the close of the grant in 2021 2 . Diamond Light Source played a pivotal role providing scientists with crucial access to world class synchrotron techniques, beamtime, training andmentoring. Research focused on structural biology and energy materials to address key United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals for health (SDG 3), energy (SDG 7), climate (SDG 13), and life-long learning (SDG 4). To improve energy efficiency and storage, scientists explored novel materials for solar cells, batteries, and fuel cells, as well as active and selective catalysts for fuels and chemical production. Diseases were studied for drug targets and vaccines, and ‘green’ biotechnology investigated for food security, industrial processing, and tackling toxic waste. START’s unique impact More than 66 papers were published, many in leading journals. Dozens of protein structures were deposited in the global Protein Data Bank and over 264 Diamond synchrotron shifts were carried out through more than 61 beamtime sessions. Careers were enhanced and diversity improved. 41 PDRAs (post-doctoral research associates) and technicians were funded for three years (31 African; 10 UK). START’s 25 leading Principal Investigators (PIs) and Co-Investigators (Co-Is)—seven from the UK and 18 from Africa—trained and mentored more than 92 postgraduates. Over 50% of 23 structural biology positions funded by GCRF START were held by female scientists. Workshops and conferences hosted hundreds of international participants online and in person, including three African Neutron and Synchrotron Data Analysis Competency (ANSDAC) workshops with participants from over 10 African countries. GCRF START’s Sci-ART project collaborated with the Keiskamma Trust, a South African community-led NGO 3 . Structural biology highlights The structural biology landscape in South Africa was transformed resulting in further understanding of potential treatments for SARS-CoV-2 (COVID-19), snakebite envenomation, HIV, tuberculosis, malaria, bilharzia, human papilloma virus, cardiovascular disease, human metabolic disorders, African Horse Sickness virus, and industrial enzymes for the manufacture of medicines and commodity chemicals. Nine START Co-Is built infrastructure at seven institutions, which now include six fully capable protein crystallography laboratories that can access synchrotrons world-wide, four labs own X-ray diffractometers and, uniquely in Africa, the University of Cape Town’s (UCT’s) Aaron Klug Centre for Imaging and Analysis now houses a cryo-electron microscope equipped with a direct electron detector. Groups at eight institutions regularly collected X-ray diffraction data at Diamond and cryogenic Electron Microscopy (cryo-EM) data at the UK’s national electron Bio-Imaging Centre (eBIC). Access to fragment-based drug discovery resources on the XChembeamline (I04-1) at Diamond enhanced research prospects for early career scientists like START PDRA’s Dr Blake Balcomb and Dr Anton Hamann from the University of Stellenbosch’s Strauss Laboratory in their work to design medicines for tuberculosis, malaria, and S. aureus infections. Likewise, Dr Carmien Tolmie’s studies on enzymes to develop drug targets for fungal infectious diseases are benefitting from exposure to X-ray crystallographic fragment screening for structure-based drug design. Dr Tolmie was promoted to academic staff at the University of the Free State following her role as a START-funded PDRA. Notable examples include the determination of a broadly neutralising HIV antibody structure by START Co-Is Professors Lynn Morris and Penny Moore and START-funded PDRA Dr Thandeka Gwete-Moyo from South Africa’s National Institute of Communicable Diseases (NICD). After using beamlines I04, I04-1 and I03 at Diamond, Thandeka reported: “START has given me opportunities I could have never imagined”. The NICD now has structural biology projects to understand how antibodies recognise and stop SARS-CoV-2 variants of concern. Another highlight is the determination of structures of substrates bound to hyperthermophilic amidases by UCT’s START Co-I Professor Trevor Sewell and START PDRA Dr Stanley Makumire. The highlight of the research was the visualisation of a plant nitrilase by START PDRAs Dr Andani Mulelu, Angela Kirykowicz, and START Co-I Dr JeremyWoodward using Diamond. The scientists were able to explain and modify the substrate specificity of these enzymes. Energy materials highlights To meet global energy demand, affordable, clean, and sustainable energy solutions are urgently required. The challenge is stability under environmental conditions and scaling up of fabrication, especially in remote areas. To address these challenges, scientists from as far as Zimbabwe, South Africa, UK, and Egypt collaborated with START. Groups from South Africa’s University of the Witwatersrand (Wits) and the UK’s University of Oxford used cutting-edge evaporation and synchrotron techniques for the development of photoactive layers for cost-effective solar cell prototypes. Exposure to new skills led to new opportunities, including the award of British Council Newton Travel Grant to Kenyan researcher Dr Francis Otieno for research visits to Diamond and University of Oxford. Through investing his skills teaching postgraduates in Kenya, Francis continues START’s legacy. PhD students Michelle Nyoni, Michelle Thiebaut and Gugulethu Nkala are some of the increasing numbers of female energy research students at Wits. Nyoni and Thiebaut study lithium-iron phosphate and lithium-vanadium phosphate respectively, examining them as cathode materials to improve lithium-ion battery performance, safety, affordability, and environmental footprint. Nkala explores renewable energy storage systems and aims to fabricate a solid-state electrolyte for an all-solid-state battery. START provided valuable X-ray Absorption Spectroscopy (XAS) data analysis skills which the students not only applied to their data collected at Diamond, but also to research at Brookhaven National Laboratory. In 2019, START PDRA Dr Mohamed Fadlalla and MSc student Chris Mullins identified parameters of iron-based bimetallic catalysts, which led to enhanced CO 2 hydrogenation performance. A key area of investigation was the effect of alloying in these materials on performance using in situ studies at Diamond focusing on XAS. This involved new collaborations with UCT’s Centre for Catalysis and c*Change, the UK’s Catalysis Hub, and the Universities of London (UCL), Cardiff, and Southampton. START Co-I Professor Peter Wells (Southampton/Diamond) and Egyptian Dr Khaled Mohammed (Southampton) provided specific XAS expertise; computational modelling was supported by START PDRA Dr Michael Higham (UK Catalysis Hub/Cardiff/UCL) following his successful secondment to UCT’s Centre of Catalysis in 2019/2020. Subsequently, Dr Fadlalla was promoted to Research Officer and awarded prestigious university and national grants for his research going forward. New projects in the pipeline involve fuel cell storage to power vehicles and other devices. Building on START’s legacy “START has been an exciting journey, which has reaped fantastic results in a remarkably short space of time,” says Professor Chris Nicklin, Diamond Science Group Leader and GCRF START Principal Investigator. “African researchers are keen to apply synchrotron techniques to their research problems and find African and joint solutions to global challenges. There is a huge appetite for a ‘START 2,’ especially if the ambition of an African Light Source is to be realised.” Options to continue START’s momentum include: • an Africa Block Allocation Group (BAG) at Diamond • funding for infrastructure in African laboratories and open hardware • skills transfer through visits/exchanges • training using existing networks such as c*Change and ANSDAC • continuing international support networks to grow and retain early-career scientists References: 1. https://start-project.org/ 2. Nicklin, C. et al. Synchrotron Techniques for African Research and Technology: A Step-Change in Structural Biology and Energy Materials. Synchrotron Radiation News , 1–6 (2022).DOI: 10.1080/08940886.2022.2043684 3. https://start-project.org/keiskamma-sciart-collaboration/ Dr Andani Mulelu (L) and Dr Jeremy Woodward next to the cryo-electron microscope at the University of Cape Town, South Africa. Photo Credit: Rebekka Stredwick. GCRF START Energy Materials Workshop delegates in Cape Town. Photo credit: Rebekka Stredwick. Dr Mohamed Fadlalla, Research Officer at the University of Cape Town’s Centre for Catalysis. Photo credit: Rebekka Stredwick. Energy Materials PhD student Gugulethu Nkala, on a workshop tour of Diamond Light Source. Photo credit: Gugulethu Nkala. Dr Carmien Tolmie using an X-Ray diffractometer at the University of the Free State, South Africa. Photo Credit: R. Machado.