The people behind the MX software win the BESSY award


The number of crystals you could screen daily in the ESRF Macromolecular Crystallography (MX) beamlines ten years ago was limited by your physical capacities. Today, this figure has risen by two orders of magnitude. This achievement has only been possible because of the automation of the MX beamlines and the software developed for an automated X-ray beam provision, rapid data collection and sample evaluation. On 4 December, the people behind the MX software were awarded with the BESSY Innovation Award in Berlin.

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On 4 December, Vicente Rey Bakaikoa and Olof Svensson received the 2008 Bessy Innovation Award on Synchrotron Radiation in Berlin (Germany) for “their decisive role and participation in the development of a customized software environment on the ESRF macromolecular crystallography beamlines”.  The prize is awarded by the Society of Friends and Sponsors of BESSY since 2001. It is dedicated to an outstanding technical achievement or experimental method that promises to extend the frontiers of research with synchrotron radiation Europe wide.

The achievement rewarded today started in 2003, when a special Automation Task Force was established. It was headed by Rey, from the BeamLine Instrumentation Software Support  group (BLISS), and Svensson from the Scientific Software group, as another crucial member. These groups have  developed the software that allows Crystallographers to automate the data collection and data analysis of macromolecular crystals.

Even though the prize goes to two ESRF staff members, they both insist on the fact that this prize also represents the efforts of  the different ESRF teams involved in the work: BLISS and the Scientific Software groups, as well as the MX group, the instrument support group and computing services. Furthermore external groups from synchrotron sources as well as labs are actively involved in the software developments. In this context one must acknowledge the important and innovative developments of sample changer and diffractometer for the macromolecular crystallography beamlines by Florent Cipriani from EMBL Grenoble,  which formed the basis for the automation of the macromolecular crystallography beamlines.

Automation in MX beamlines has been a reality at the ESRF since 2005. The automation has completely changed the way that macromolecular crystallographers use the beamlines. Today, they bring more crystals to test and they use more of their precious beamtime in order to find the “best” crystal. On the other hand, other software efforts mean that they spent less time on the data collection and processing than in the past. This change has significantly improved the efficiency and productivity of the beamlines meaning that important scientific discoveries are being made more rapidly. This progress in MX experiments has revealed that even more advanced screening facilities and specialized beamlines are needed to meet the challenges in Structural Biology in the future. It will be possible to meet these demands in the ESRF Upgrade Programme, which contains a proposal for a new beamline with all these features.


Top image: Vicente Rey and Olof Svensson receive the prize from Professor Wolfgang Gudat, former BESSY director and Chairman of the "Society", with Sine Larsen next to him.