How x-ray diffraction with synchrotron radiation got started

The need to record low angle scattering x-ray fibre diagrams from muscle with milli-second time resolution drove the use of synchrotron radiation as an x-ray light source. The first smudgy diffraction patterns were obtained from a slice of insect flight muscle. Out of this grew the EMBL Outstation at DESY.


Fig 4: In 1975 EMBL and DESY entered into a formal agreement to set up an EMBL outstation at DESY in Hamburg. The photograph shows H. Schopper Chairman of the Directors of DESY, J.C. Kendrew Director General of EMBL and W. Berghaus the Administrative Director of DESY at the signing ceremony.

The history of this bunker became entwined with the history of the European Molecular Biology Laboratory, EMBL. It was clear that a sychrotron radiation x-ray diffraction facility would become a central facility for European research, particularly in molecular biology where the advantages of good x-ray optics and intensity were appreciated much earlier by the structural biologists than in the general crystallographic community, who only became interested a decade later. What better vehicle for such a facility could there be than EMBL. In 1969 advised by H.E. Huxley, we made a proposal for such a facility to Sir John Kendrew, the head of the EMBL "Project" (EMBL did not exist legally for another 5 years). John Kendrew greeted our initiative with enthusiasm. The new EMBL laboratory was dedicated to technological developments for molecular biology. High level contacts ensued at which it was agreed that the developments in Hamburg should become part of an outstation of EMBL at DESY. Thus a little later Bunker 2 became the provisional headquarters of the EMBL outstation. The initial financing of this project is a tribute what can be achieved through good will. Salaries were initially paid by the Deutche Forschungsgemeinschaft and then by EMBO (the private sister organisation to EMBL). Building costs were covered by the Bundesministerium für Wissenschaft und Forschung (via DESY) - perhaps hoping this would help ensure that EMBL was established in Germany - and the Max Planck Institute for Medical Research in Heidelberg carried the equipment costs. With the ratification of the EMBL agreement in 1974 the whole project was taken over by EMBL. An official agreement between DESY and EMBL setting up the Outstation was signed in 1975.

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