From the Director
Dear Colleague,

Nearly four months ago, CHESS suspended user operations abruptly due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Almost immediately, we started preparing to restart user operations under appropriate conditions, and on April 29 th, Cornell University gave CHESS the green light to restart operation for (university approved) COVID-19 research. Several weeks later, the definition of essential research expanded to include all NIH and DoD funded research. On June 10 th – coincidentally during the CHESS Users’ Meeting – user experiments resumed at CHESS and continued through June 29 th, when CHESS shut down for the scheduled summer maintenance period.

The research efforts in June focused on room temperature serial crystallography at the macromolecular crystallography beamline FlexX. A collaboration between CHEXS , MacCHESS and MacCHESS PI Prof. Richard Cerione’s (Cornell) research group studied a family of drugs that target enzymes (Glutaminase). These enzymes play an essential role in the metabolism of cancer cells – and, as it turns out, viruses such as SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19. Room temperature is important as the potency of these drug candidates varies by a factor of 50 but their (cryogenic) crystallographic structures are indistinguishable. The room temperature crystallographic studies were complemented by biological small angle scattering (SAXS) measurements at the BioSAXS beamline. Conformations and oligomeric states might be affected in ways that cannot be seen in macromolecular crystallography studies and SAXS in solution can serve as a rapid and easy screening technique to identify possible structural changes induced by candidate drugs.

Also in June, defense related research became possible again and was performed at CHESS’ structural materials beamline, SMB, which is part of AFRL-funded MSN-C. Moreover, other CHESS beamlines developed and tested remote measurement capabilities in preparation for the fall 2020 experimental run. The research efforts in June at CHESS involved Cornell and CHESS scientific, operations and technical staff working remotely or if on-site practicing strict distancing protocols and other measures to ensure safe execution of the experiments.

On June 30 th, Cornell University President Martha E. Pollack announced that Cornell plans to welcome undergraduate students back to its Ithaca campus for the fall semester, combining in-person and on-line instruction, emphasizing that this decision best serves public health. In order to minimize transmission, Cornell University is strongly discouraging and significantly restricting visits to campus by individuals not part of the residential Cornell community, at least through the fall semester. Therefore, out-of-town users will not be allowed to visit CHESS during the September to November experimental run. Out-of-town users will be supported via remote and mail-in capabilities. A limited number of challenging experiments will be supported in “joint venture mode”:

  • Joint venture mode: User groups working from their home institutions and CHESS scientists working at the beamline plan and execute experiments in close collaboration.

  • Mail-in mode: User groups send samples to CHESS and CHESS scientists collect data based on the experimental plan provided by the user group.

  • Remote mode: User groups send samples to CHESS and perform the experiments remotely from their home institution by logging on to the CHESS station computer.

When allocating beamtime for the upcoming run, we will carefully take into account the feasibility of the proposed experiments to ensure that we continue to do exceptional science under the current circumstances, train students in synchrotron methods, and develop new and unique experimental capabilities.

We will provide updates on CHESS operations and solicit your feedback under what we expect to be changing pandemic conditions. Please be aware that deteriorating conditions may force Cornell to modify its reopening strategy in the coming weeks and as the semester progresses.

Detailed information on CHESS operations will be posted on the CHESS website.

Please do not hesitate to reach out to us, to the CHESS scientists, or to the CHESS user office if you have questions or comments.
Joel Brock, Director, CHESS
Elke Arenholz, Associate Director, CHESS