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European Synchrotron Radiation Facility

Scientists have determined the structure of the highly-absorbent mineral used in cat litte...

Cat litter might not seem like a particularly exotic substance, but it contains a mineral known as sepiolite, which is actually rather remarkable. Mined from only a few sources worldwide, sepiolite is a type of clay that absorbs 2.5 times its weight in water - that's more absorbent than any other known mineral, or any manmade material. This is made possible by its crystalline structure, that maximizes the amount of internal surface area available for soaking up liquids ... such as cat pee. Recently, an international team of scientists have obtained X-ray diffraction microscope images of sepiolite for the first time. Using the information provided by those images, a cheaper, easier-to-source synthetic version of the mineral could be created, and used in everything from batteries to food.  Read More

The structure of zeolite scolecite, showing the aluminium and silicon atoms as the large s...

June 27, 2008 In a world first, scientists at the European Synchrotron Radiation Facility have determined the distribution of aluminum in zeolites, an important step towards understanding the versatile volcanic material used in water purification, nuclear waste removal, and the spin cycle of your washing machine.  Read More

Image: Stephen Cusack, EMBL Grenoble

February 27, 2007 The term Spanish Flu seems almost innocuous to those who are unaware of its history. Spanish Flu swept the world in the years after World War One, killing somewhere between 2.5 and 5% of the human population of Planet earth. Around 20% of the world population suffered from the disease which killed more people than had WW1 and more than the Black Death of the 1300s – it remains the most deadly outbreak of disease in world history. Spanish Flu was caused by a mutation of the bird-specific H1N1 strain of the influenza virus. More recently, another highly infectious avian strain (H5N1 also known as Bird Flu ) has caused great concern that it might also mutate to allow human-to-human transmission and cause another catastrophic pandemic. Specific mutations in a viral protein, the polymerase, contribute to the ability of the bird virus to jump the species barrier to humans. European researchers have now produced the first three-dimensional image of part of this key protein. The study, which is published in the current issue of Nature Structural and Molecular Biology, investigates the structure and function of the protein and sheds light on how polymerase mutations contribute to transmission of avian flu to humans.  Read More

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