10. November 2020

World Science Day and four good reasons to acknowledge it


A 10-minute read

Even this year, when many operations are kept hostage by a novel virus, researchers across fields are working tirelessly. On the occasion of UNESCO’s World Science Day for Peace and Development we highlight some of their efforts that promise better times ahead.

Fighting COVID-19: crystal healing

In a race between the COVID-19 disease and drug development, research on SARS-CoV-2 is on a fast track to big win for humankind. In one year since the appearance of the virus, characterization of its proteins has yielded  numerous crystal structures that reveal the virus’ sites responsible for its interactions with host cells or potential drugs. Since March, over 500 potential drugs have been investigated in a process called fragment screening.The key to this accelerated drug development lies not only in collaborative research between academia and industry, but also in hard work. Even during lockdown and social distancing, synchrotron sources stayed at the frontline the COVID-19 research. Sources such as DESY, Advanced Photon Source, and Diamond Light Source relied on skilled beamline scientists, robust processes and reliable equipment to enable rapid access to their macromolecular beamlines. The European Synchrotron Radiation Facility took this even a step further: it opened up its beamlines well ahead of the scheduled upgrade plan!

Sustainable sources of energy: a century-old dream

A century has passed since Sir Arthur Eddington first presented the idea that the source of stellar energy is nuclear fusion. Although scientist recognized that fusion could feed the energy-hungry Earth, making the process work in a reactor has been difficult. Using nuclear fusion to produce energy on Earth requires specialized laboratories and power plants that can recreate the conditions close to those on the Sun.

Dr. Luis Felipe Delgado-Aparicio explains how complex experimental setups include not only high-temperature chambers, but also reliable tools for monitoring the plasma and its processes within the container. His colleagues at the Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory (PPPL) report good news on the path towards commercial fusion, particularly about the ITER project. This international collaboration, encompassing 35 nations, is building the world's largest tokamak, a magnetic fusion device designed to prove the feasibility of fusion as a large-scale and carbon-free source of energy.

Diagnosis and treatment of diseases: clinical applications in color 

There is a very good reason why medical doctors have relied on X-ray radiography for over a century: the method is simple and effective. This year, a collaboration between academic clinical research and industry has yielded a novel technique: spectral photon counting radiography (SPCR), an approach that allows radiography to be used for material decomposition in clinical applications. By upgrading a plain radiography apparatus with a photon counting detector, Dr. Roman Guggenberger and Dr. Florian Huber from the University Hospital Zurich were able to differentiate crystals causing arthropaties in a way that is comfortable for both practitioners and patients. Radiologists benefit from simple operating procedures and extremely high quality images, while patients do not need to suffer painful procedures nor high radiation doses.  

Scientific education: good sources from various channels

An introverted scientist in a lab? Likely an outdated misconception. Modern scientists connect with other experts and public using a range of channels to talk about topics that interest them. In doing so, they create great educational spaces for anyone who wants to learn or discuss science. Some all-time favorites include discussions, blogs and schools on X-ray techniques and their applications in contemporary topics.

Coronavirus research is particularly well covered on a curated site insidecorona.com, where experts across fields give contributions to explain the virus to scientific communities and to the public. Their colleagues, focused on computational structural biology, have been running the Folding@home project for a while now. The project is using a “crowdsourcing” approach to create a supercomputer that can calculate movements of proteins. With the push to speed up COVID-19 research, every help counts, so donate your computer power to fold proteins and speed up the calculations! 

Other topics are well covered in various initiatives, ranging from blogs, to schools and webinars. Those interested in SAXS and scattering will enjoy the blog Looking at nothing and the open-access series of lectures Better with scattering, both organized by Dr. Brian Pauw. A series of scientists presented advances in macromolecular crystallography, XRD-CT, spectroscopy and ptychography in DECTRIS application webinars, and there is more to look for! 

Although this has been a challenging year for humanity, science gives us hope that the things will improve. Stay safe, stay well, and keep on learning and investigating. If there is anything our scientists can help you with, don’t hesitate to schedule a meeting.