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Chemical Analysis Facility, University of Reading

The Chemical Analysis Facility is a state-of-the-art instrument suite that underpins the chemical aspects of research at the University of Reading across a number of Biological and Physical Science areas, Archaeology, Soil Science and Engineering. Medically related topics form a significant portion of the work, embracing fields such as pharmaceutics, drug synthesis, nutrition and materials characterisation.

Recently, a team of crystallographers (Prof. Christine Cardin, Prof. Ann Chippindale, Prof. Kenneth Shankland and Dr. James Hall) put together a bid to purchase a new diffractometer to replace the CAF’s existing Gemini diffractometer. Their own research interests vary widely, from nucleic acids (Cardin, Hall) through small molecules (Shankland) to inorganic materials (Chippindale). Here, they discuss some of the reasons that they chose the XtaLAB Synergy, ones that ensured that they could support users with a wide and growing range of structure characterisation demands.

“The ageing Gemini diffractometer, whilst still an excellent machine, was increasingly being challenged with very small crystals and/or weakly diffracting samples from which data of the desired quality could not be collected. Looking forward, we realised that we needed a highly versatile machine that offered a significant step forward in terms of “crystal structure solving power” and flexibility, if we were to be able to remain competitive in the area of laboratory-based structure characterisation. Having done our homework, we settled on the XtaLAB Synergy-S dual micro-focus source instrument, with a HyPix-6000HE hybrid photon counting detector and a Cryostream 800. 

The Synergy’s impact upon our workflow, and that of our X-ray technician, Nick Spencer, was transformative; it quickly became clear that not only could we collect publication quality data about an order of magnitude faster than we could with the Gemini, but also that we only needed very small crystals in the majority of cases. This caused us to immediately revisit samples that had been previously tried, rejected and confined to the back of the fume cupboard! In the vast majority of cases, we found to our delight that they diffracted well on the Synergy and that AutoChem frequently solved them with no manual intervention. 

It appears to us that the single most important benefit that the instrument brings to the lab is the ability examine very small crystals in a short timeframe, whether that size constraint is forced upon you by the crystal availability, or whether you enforce it in order to isolate a single high-quality fragment from a larger (perhaps multiple) crystal. Along with this, the flexibility of the instrument was a very important consideration – we have the XtalCheck option for examining crystals in-situ in multi-well crystallisation plates; a facility allowing us to examine crystals under different humidity conditions; and the ability to mount samples in a diamond anvil cell for high-pressure work.  

We’d have no hesitation in recommending the Synergy system. The combination of excellent hardware and software is a powerful one, and our close working relationship with Rigaku gives us confidence that we’ve made a sound choice that will serve us well for the foreseeable future.”