Meeting report

International School of Crystallography
49th Course:
High-pressure crystallography: status artis and emerging opportunities

Erice, Italy, May 2016,

70 students from 20 nations were enrolled in The International School of Crystallography in Erice at the Ettore Majorana Foundation and Centre for Scientific Culture. Participants were largely from university (PhD students, postdoctoral and young researchers), with some attendees coming from commercial companies.

A typical day included a morning session, with four 45-minute lectures, and an afternoon session with two lectures, followed by different workshops and tutorials.

[Award winners] From left to right, Charlie McMonagle, Charles Pepin, Fabio Montisci, Rajikrishna Dutta, Anna Pakhomova, Eleanor Berryman, Dongzhou Zhang, Jerdjzei Marciniak, Paola Spadon and Annalisa Guerri.
[Attendees] Participants at the International School of Crystallography 49th Course, High-pressure crystallography: status artis and emerging opportunities in Erice, Italy.

The program focused on core experimental and theoretical high-pressure techniques in the first two days, introducing more specialized topics as the week progressed. Lectures were grouped according to research themes (basics of high-pressure research from experimental and theoretical perspectives, phase transitions, inelastic scattering and other complementary techniques to diffraction, techniques, molecular crystals, materials). The last two days were dedicated to state-of-the-art techniques and instrumentation, setting the scene for the highly interactive combined round table/panel discussion session, where emerging challenges and opportunities in high-pressure research were discussed in greater detail. Fundamental topics covered in the course included experimental techniques for pressure generation (diamond anvil cells, large-volume presses), the basics of X-ray and neutron diffraction on single-crystal and powder materials, and comparative structural studies. These were demonstrated through examples of different chemical and structural complexity, from minerals to ices and biomolecules. Specialized high-pressure research topics included computational crystallography, dynamic compression, characterization of liquids and glasses and pair distribution function analysis. The course was rounded out by illustrating the use of high pressure as a means to study and access new materials for industrial applications such as pharmaceuticals, energy storage, magnetic and ultra-hard materials.

The program contained 31 lectures given by 21 invited speakers and 12 15-minute oral presentations by young participants (selected from the submitted abstracts). The young researchers selected were Davide Comboni (Italy), Piotr Guka (Poland), Lauren Evelyn Connor (UK), Andrew Cairns (France), Hannah Shelton (USA), Xenia Ritter (Germany), Christopher Woodall (UK), Sulgiye Park (USA), Dominique Laniel (France), Christian Childs (USA), Ramesh Devarapalli (India) and Kirsten Schultze (Germany).

Two software tutorials and ten workshops, each repeated at least twice over the course of the week, were open to all participants. Workshops were bundled in up to four parallel sessions to allow student rotation. An electronic sign-up program was developed for the course, the most workshop-intensive in recent years.

The participants presented 52 posters in two evening poster sessions. The 'poster preview during lunch' session was appreciated by poster presenters and participants alike. Equally successful were the two-minute 'come see my poster' précis immediately prior to each poster session. Several general events were organized during the day and in the evenings to further facilitate networking opportunities and scientific exchange among all participants. The last day featured a very lively and highly interactive 'Future Challenges' panel discussion and round table session.

Awards and participant feedback

Third place awards were presented to F. Montisci (Switzerland) and R. Dutta (USA), second place awards to E. Berryman (Germany) and A. Pakhomova (Germany), and first place awards to C. Pepin (Switzerland) and C. McMonagle (UK).

The Lodovico Prize recognizing the most active student inside and outside the lecture hall was awarded to J. Marciniak (Poland), with special mention made to E. Berryman (Germany) and D. Zhang (USA).

The Course survey indicated a high level of satisfaction with the content and practical organization of the course. Participants praised the lectures and workshops, the breadth of topics covered by 'passionate presenters', the 'pedagogical effort of the lecturers' and the 'energizing atmosphere that promoted learning' and 'intercultural exchange'. The high rating can in large part be attributed to the quality and teaching skills of the speakers, who were chosen among the world leaders in the field of high-pressure crystallography.

Annalisa Guerri