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Why Synchrotron Radiation?

[Phil Coppens] Phil Coppens

Like other experimental sciences, crystallography has advanced in leaps and bounds as new technologies have become available. Its birth as a modern science dates from the discovery of X-rays and the subsequent understanding of diffraction by atomic arrays. The development of high speed computing and experiment control was vital for further development. The advent of synchrotron radiation is a next step that promises to revolutionize the field, if only by its ability to add the dimension of time to diffraction. Time resolved studies are increasingly feasible as third generation sources, such as ESRF, APS, and Spring8, are coming on line. But synchrotron radiation also offers the ability to look at 1015 atoms or less, which means that microcrystals, membranes, thin films and surface layers, and other interfaces can now be studied. The wavelength tunability of the beam is being used not only for macromolecular structure solution, but also for element and valence contrast and for the combination of crystallography and atomic spectroscopy, realized in the analysis of the near-edge fine structure of reflections. Powder diffraction has become a rival to single crystal diffraction in structure determination of not-too-large-unit-cell crystals, while magnetic scattering with X-rays has become a practical reality. Unprecedented numbers of data on crystals of macromolecules can now be collected in a matter of hours or less. The list is by no means exhaustive and will continue to grow to the benefit of Biology, Chemistry, Physics, and the Earth and Materials Sciences.

Against this background, the Union has decided to publish a new journal. Crystallography is not defined by a single field, but rather a dynamic subject with fluid boundaries. The Journal of Synchrotron Radiation (JSR) expands the boundaries of the Union's activities and has already led to valuable contacts with accelerator scientists, optics experts, and others who have contributed outstanding articles to the inaugural issue of the journal. The Union hopes to strengthen the interaction with other communities in related and often overlapping fields.

The new journal is not intended to capture the bulk of new scientific results, which should appear in journals appropriate for the specific subject. But JSR offers for the first time a single forum for the presentation of vital new technical ideas and advances in the field, which have been scattered over many publications. The editors of JSR and the technical staff in the Union offices in Chester have done an excellent job and produced a very informative and attractive first issue. Our thanks are due for a highly successful beginning of the Union's newest venture.

Philip Coppens