This subproject is one of many research subprojects utilizing the resources provided by a Center grant funded by NIH/NCRR. The subproject and investigator (PI) may have received primary funding from another NIH source, and thus could be represented in other CRISP entries. The institution listed is for the Center, which is not necessarily the institution for the investigator. Objectives It is the first objective of the automounter program to develop further the robot user community. Our plan is to promote and exercise mechanisms for the combined use of the X12-B bending magnet facility for screening, and the intense X29 undulator beam for collecting data on best-in-lot specimens. Exploratory runs have demonstrated the potential and success of the approach, and the ID Quick Project scheme can provide undulator beam time for same-day. The full exploitation of this excellent opportunity needs further promotion among our users. A second programmatic objective is to convince crystallographers that take advantage of the PXRR Mail-In program to prepare robot-compatible specimens. If more broadly used, the combined use of automatic specimen handling and emerging capabilities in remote beam line operation would increase the capacity of the mail-in program. At the same time, it will diminish the demands on the staff that now advances the program while working right at the facilities. Additional programmatic goals are the continued promotion of automounter capabilities among our frequent visitors, the collection of user feedback, the more extensive training of our PX-operators and users, and the increasing collaboration with the NIGMS based experimenters. Automounter related research and development activities as well as the continuing improvements of the robots and their software control are pursued in the broader context of advancing beam line automation. It is our ambition eventually to provide reliable and easy-to-use specimen handlers at all of the PXRR facilities at a level of perfection where visiting and remotely working investigators would use the machines as integral parts of the diffractometers. Results In 2005 our automounter effort gradually shifted from design and engineering to community outreach. Although work continues on the fabrication of an additional automounter, the already installed units have been increasingly turned over to our user base. The first automounter at beamline X12-B has been in routine use since mid 2005, and is currently used by approximately 50% of X12-B users. Mechanical failures are very rare, and have been responsible for three lost user specimens since October 2005, a failure rate under 1%. Although the mechanical performance of our automounters has led to increased acceptance of the program, we have found that users are most likely to participate if training and required equipment barriers are lowered. Loaner tool sets have been very popular, since they allow our users to test the equipment before investing in new hardware. We have also invested resources in an outreach and training program designed to inform our user community of the potential benefits of the automounters to their programs. Check it out here: Operationally, the automounter at beam line X12-B has developed into a crucial tool in our effort to integrate dipole beam lines with the insertion devices at beam lines X25 and X29. Many of our users choose to screen crystals on the X12-B automounter, and then take the best-in-lot specimens to X29 for full data collection. In one notable example, a user group screened over sixty crystals of five unknown structures at X12-B, and then transferred only the best of each type to X29 for further data collection. Two novel structures were solved before this group left Brookhaven Laboratory, and the remaining three structures were later solved at their home institution, all from data collected in seven hours of scheduled access to X29. Plans Motivated by our current success with introducing automounters as routine tools for the crystallographic community at the NSLS, and by the ambition eventually to equip all PXRR facilities with cryogenic crystal mounters, we complement programmatic and community development activities by pursuing research and development goals, as well as technical improvements. An ongoing research and development effort will lead to the installation of an already bench-tested third PXRR automounter at beam line X12-C as a quasi-autonomous and self-aligning unit entirely separate from the existing diffractometer. While this architecture is mandated at X12-C by the particularities of the kinematical table supporting its diffractometer and detector, it anticipates the method we propose to use for a future X25 automatic sample mounter that will not interfere with the vibration-sensitive final optical elements and high-precision spindle that will be required when its primary beam is refocused into a micro-beam. We anticipate that the combined mechanical engineering, position sensing, and systems control software will be of general interest now as well as for future instrument developments. In support of remote data collections that are just now being developed and tested by PXRR staff, we have taken first steps towards the development of an interactive status handler for our automounters. When fully developed it will not only keep experimenters informed about the current status of the robot and its payload, but it also will provide detailed escape and recovery pathways when unexpected events occur such as program glitches, required remote re-connections, or power and mechanical failures. While it is the first goal of the envisioned state-diagram analysis tool to preserve specimens, it also will assist facility operators in decision making under normal and recovery conditions. Once implemented at the robot scale, these software methods of processing and visualizing physical information could readily be extended to include additional facility sub-sytems. The incorporation of 3D machine vision is a long-term goal. A broad array of technical improvements will sustain and improve robot-assisted data collection. These include measures to strengthen systems reliability further by building critical spares, refining operational protocols, and promptly translating operational experience into hardware and software upgrades. The improvement of the speed and accuracy of automatic crystal centering is ongoing work, including both software improvements and optical upgrades. We are developing protocols to sort crystals from puck to puck, we are testing methods to accelerate the crystal mounting/dismounting cycle time, and we are evaluating the performance of data-code readers. Significance The intense undulator-derived beam at the premier PXRR facility at X29, and the even more brilliant and tighter focused beams expected at X25 on completion of its upgrades, make these facilities the most sought after by the PXRR user community. Well-supported, reliable, and easy-to-use automounters can contribute in two ways to the optimal utilization and high productivity at insertion device facilities. Robots at bending magnet lines help staff and visiting researchers identify experiments that deserve and require undulator beam. Robots on undulator lines increase the throughput of the facilities. The programmatic, research and development, and technical goals sketched out above aim to support the optimal use of the best PXRR facilities by increasing the pace and quality experiments performed there.

National Institute of Health (NIH)
National Center for Research Resources (NCRR)
Biotechnology Resource Grants (P41)
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Brookhaven National Laboratory
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