Letter from the President

Letter from the President

[Larsen]
Since I wrote the last letter for the Newsletter significant changes have occurred in my personal and professional life. After six years as Director of Research with responsibility for the Life Science program at the European Synchrotron Radiation Facility (ESRF) in Grenoble I have returned to my position at the University of Copenhagen as professor of structural chemistry. Formally this move implies that my IUCr nationality from 1 June has changed from French to Danish. The six years at the ESRF have been a very exciting experience, it has been great to work for one of the world’s leading synchrotron facilities and be part of the management team that obtained the official approval to upgrade the ESRF. An extra benefit of living in France was the good insight I got into crystallographic life in France. I had the pleasure of participating in the annual meeting of the Association Française de Cristallographie (AFC) in July 2008 and could sample the broad crystallographic activities in France. As an example of the high level of activity of the AFC, I would like to praise their initiatives in bringing crystallography to the public. The AFC organized the large exhibition Voyage dans le cristal being held in Grenoble from April to September this year. I had the opportunity to visit the exhibit in May with Davide Viterbo, former member of the IUCr Executive Committee, and two new members of the Executive Committee, Elena Boldyreva and Louis Delbaere. This successful exhibition by the AFC could be an inspiration for other national crystallographic committees.

The increasingly important role played by large research infrastructures is one of the things that my appointment at the ESRF has made me very aware of. About 80% of the structures deposited in the Protein Data Bank have been determined using synchrotron radiation, justifying the statement that synchrotron radiation has revolutionized structural biology. New synchrotron facilities are under construction or are just becoming operational all over the world; this will have a great impact on a broad spectrum of the research represented by the IUCr. New exciting opportunities will be offered in the future by the free electron lasers (FEL), new brilliant X-ray sources with unique properties. X-rays and neutrons are complementary sources for the study of matter. Neutrons generated by the new powerful spallation sources will offer other new dimensions for crystallographic research. The links between crystallography and large research infrastructures generating X-rays and neutrons are already very strong, but likely to be even more enhanced in the future. As an example, the attendance of the annual Danish crystallography meetings almost doubled after they were organized jointly with the X-ray and neutron scattering communities, and very importantly the proportion of young scientists increased significantly.

I would like to conclude this letter by mentioning a problem that has become a major concern for me during the last six years. Large facilities are used more and more for crystallographic research and the scientists working there are responsible for providing the best service for the users that come to carry out their experiments. A prominent example concerns the beamlines for macromolecular crystallography. The scientists at the synchrotrons have invested enormous human resources into the automation of the beamlines making them so efficient that the users can control their experiments from their home laboratories. Many users take these well functioning beamlines for granted and often forget to recognize the efforts involved in creating the instrumentation, hardware and software. The lack of recognition from the users may have a negative effect on the beamline scientists that could eventually have a negative impact on beamline developments. It could be useful to have a dialogue between the communities of macromolecular crystallographers and scientists at the synchrotrons on this problem. Hopefully this could lead to the formulation of guidelines for an appropriate recognition of the use of large infrastructures.

Sine Larsen (slarsen@esrf.eu)