Ok, so this morning whilst having my shower, I thought to myself why haven’t I used my blog? Its been setup sat aging, having the code based updated for a couple of year now and all I’ve managed to do is post something about my rucksack and a welcome to my blog message. That is not very good now is it?

So why have I got a blog? Well I microblog via twitter, I have reasoned debate and information posted via my forum but where on the web can I rant? I mean properly rant. Twitter is great but 140 characters sometimes just does not cut it for me. If I rant on the forum, somebody rants back at me and I normally loose the ranting competition and that makes me what to rant some more. In the old days you would write a website and then have a page there of your ranting but apparently that is not the done thing anymore so here my blog sits waiting for me to develop my first rant, to grow it from a tiny itch and annoyance to let it explode in a world of venom and hate and rantage greatness. But the first thing I am going to blog is not a rant! I feel so conflicted.

So my first proper blog and it is on Beamline 11.3.1 which is the Small Molecule Single Crystal X-ray diffraction beamline. Or it is the single crystal made from small molecules X-ray diffraction beamline or any construct using those words which makes you understand what the hell I am on about. The beamline itself is nice, based on the ALS which has reasonable reliability statistics, in otherwords stable and long beamtimes. It has grown organically which is great as it reminds me of Station 9.8 at the SRS, Daresbury (where I use to work) and feels less clinical than I19 at Daresbury Laboratory South (DLS for short). Saying that I have not actually been to I19 but I have seen the pictures on the web and that is like being there isn’t it?

Ok, so back to the beamline, great! Yes great, we had 8 days of beamtime, yes days not 3x8 shifts (stupid shifts) over 9 days so one day of maintenance time. We split the time between doing single crystal excited state and gas cell experiments and all was good with the world. I think we got some great results, we definitely gave the gas cell a good first usage. The station ran well as well. That is no surprise really though as Simon Teat runs it. Who is Simon Teat your now saying to yourself? Simon Teat, is the Jame Blunt of the single crystal world. No he is, he looks and sounds like him and he makes good music (erm, diffraction beamlines) the difference is the Americans love him and the English underrate him. O’there is no difference then. He started out as my boss, so I could be biased, on Station 9.8 at the SRS where he and Simon Coles (mainly him though) setup the first Small molecule beamline in the UK. This was under the supervision of the might Billbo Cleggins (sorry Bill - it is a joke about the Ring -do you get  it?, synchrotron, ring, guided SMX away from evil etc, no matter). Ok so Simon chose to leave 9.8 and go to DLS to start I19. But he didn’t really like sitting around waiting for an engineer to stop working on one of the many protein stations there to give him 5 minutes to go over a drawing of his beamline which was at least a year off being constructed. So he got head-hunted to the ALS to their rather flaky SMX beamline.

What Simon did next? Well he basically ripped up the station and rebuilt it. He did what he has always done best. He gets a good beam, then a good alignment, then a good diffractometer setup. Then he stabilises it and then gets good data and works and works until anyone else can do the same. But just like 9.8 when I started he is often happy to live with things such as no remote control of his cryostream or changing  number in each datacollection strategy every time. Whilst I am not. So on arriving on his station I said can I do this? He said yes and five minutes later we had a working remote control on the cryostream and I had hact’d the bruker database so all the datasets collect at 0.3 not 0.5 degree scan width at 1 second and correlations were off by default. Great yeah!

Next problem, was for the first time in my life and I think his, he had a duff Cryostream (Oxford Cryosystems 700+). I know I can’t believe it either. I’ve never seen one so ill. Basically it would not go to high flow rates so turbo and cool did not work. So I emailed my good friend Alan at Oxford Cryosystems and told him the problem (I think I forgot to mention where I was though). He came straight back to me with solutions. I replied back and forth sent a system log, etc, etc and we got to a place where he wanted me to do a little test. I couldn’t though not until yesterday. Anyway we limbed on and then I did the test he wanted. Great the test actually looks to have fixed the problem? Which I will need to email Alan shortly and tell him.

Ok, so the moral of my rant is that beamline 11.3.1 on the ALS is a resource all users can apply for anywhere in the world (or near enough). It should be completely over subscribed with requests but it is not. The main reason for that I guess is people do not know that Simon Teat has been at it and has changed it from the mess/piece of crap station it was before. So what does this mean? Well at the moment in the UK there is I19 and well it really needs a Simon Teat type fellow to whip it into shape. But there isn’t another as he is at ALS and everybody has forgotten about me. But the Americans have not figured out how great the station is in their own backyard so people scientists in the UK my former users of Station 9.8 and 16.2 SMX apply now, apply for beamtime over here. Yes your going to have to fly over to ALS but that is no harder than trying to get to Harwell (Didcot, Oxfordshire) via the National Rail network. You’ll have nice weather a super stable beam and good, yes good if not super great smashing results to take home with you. Americans, if you don’t use it us Brits will.

So in short, good beamtime, nice place, big hill tired legs, great accommodation at the Berkeley Laboratory Guest house. An almost perfect beamtime. Almost as it was not on Station 9.8 so it looses some points.