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ORNL neutron science facilities welcome 20,000th user

  • Associate Laboratory Director for Neutron Sciences Paul Langan welcomes the 20,000th neutron sciences user, Irina Nesmelova, to Oak Ridge National Laboratory. (Image credit: Genevieve Martin)

  • Venky Pingali, Joanna Krueger, Ryan Oliver and Irina Nesmelova (left to right) prepare to load samples into Oak Ridge National Laboratory’s Bio-SANS instrument. (Image credit: Genevieve Martin)

  • Associate Laboratory Director for Neutron Sciences Paul Langan welcomes the 20,000th neutron sciences user, Irina Nesmelova, to Oak Ridge National Laboratory. (Image credit: Genevieve Martin)

  • Venky Pingali, Joanna Krueger, Ryan Oliver and Irina Nesmelova (left to right) prepare to load samples into Oak Ridge National Laboratory’s Bio-SANS instrument. (Image credit: Genevieve Martin)

September 14, 2016 - In August, the High Flux Isotope Reactor and the Spallation Neutron Source—both U.S. Department of Energy Office of Science User Facilities at DOE’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory—reached a milestone with the arrival of Irina Nesmelova, the facilities’ 20,000th user.

“We aim to provide the best possible neutron scattering capabilities that allow our users to accomplish cutting-edge research that makes a real impact,” said ORNL Associate Laboratory Director for Neutron Sciences Paul Langan. “We are proud to have achieved this for so many scientists. To be able to say we’ve had 20,000 users come to SNS and HFIR is something special.”

Use of ORNL’s neutron facilities by visiting researchers has accelerated along with the availability of instruments designed for specific types of research. It took the lab five years to serve its first 10,000 users but only three to add 10,000 more and reach the new milestone.

Nesmelova, an associate professor of physics at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, together with fellow UNCC Associate Professor of Chemistry Joanna Krueger—a returning neutron scattering user—used the Bio-Deuteration Lab and the Bio-SANS instrument on HFIR beam line CG-3 to study the structure of the Sleeping Beauty DNA transposon. Sleeping Beauty is the most widely used DNA transposon for genetic applications and is currently in clinical trials for human gene therapy—the transposon refers to a section of DNA that is essentially cut out by a protein called transposase and pasted into a new location in the genome. Specifically, the team aims to better understand the structure of the Sleeping Beauty transposase when it binds to the transposon DNA.

“We need to first better understand how this protein behaves in solution,” Nesmelova said. “We usually conduct nuclear magnetic resonance spectroscopy on proteins to understand how they’re structured. In this case, our NMR experiments suggested that something—probably aggregation—was occurring. These new experiments will help to obtain the critically needed structural information on Sleeping Beauty transposase and its binding to DNA.

“The protein that we’re studying is currently in human clinical trials, but we still don’t know how the molecular mechanism works. So we hope to accomplish two very important things with this new research. First, we can make the protein more efficient. Second, we can understand any safety-related issues that might exist when using Sleeping Beauty transposon,” Nesmelova added.

Laura Edwards, user program manager for Neutron Sciences, said, SNS and HFIR have had between 2,000 and 3,000 total users annually since 2011. In January 2013, 5 years after the SNS and HFIR user program was formed, the two facilities celebrated their 10,000th user with 20 instruments in the general user program. Now, just three years later, the facilities have doubled the number to 20,000 total users, with 30 instruments in the general user program.

“Our user community continues to grow and thrive, and we are proud to support their many accomplishments,” said Edwards. “We look forward to celebrating our next landmark user.”

UT-Battelle manages ORNL for DOE’s Office of Science. The Office of Science is the single largest supporter of basic research in the physical sciences in the United States, and is working to address some of the most pressing challenges of our time. For more information, please visit http://energy.gov/science.—by Chris Botsis