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RE: Synchrotron Rules

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CCP4bb is very kind to allow open debate on non-software matters.
There is a good, but rarely-used bulletin board, for synchrotron
affairs, pxbb@dl.ac.uk (to register send a message to
Majordomo@dl.ac.uk where the message is one line only
containing the string 'subscribe pxbb'). Thank you, CCP4bb for
letting me advertise.

The answer to the various points raised by Lisa Edberg are similarly
various. I do not speak for rule-makers, but having been involved for
many years in interpreting the rules, I find there are two aspects
to bringing non-manifest samples to a synchrotron experiment:

1) Safety: Lisa Edberg was correct in expressing the horror at the
mess left behind by some people. It isn't a question of being a
paranoid hypochondriac or a fussy house proud person, but users
should not compromise safety. Clearing up is only one part though.
The true problem might lie in the following scenario: Someone is
working on a protein subunit which is needed by a nasty bug to
recognise its human cell target. This is benign on its own, until
you bring along a second, toxic, part of the same protein. If this
had not been declared and an accidental release of BOTH parts happens,
you can imagine what sort of trouble that would make. It needn't
be only human pathogens, either.

Any system with a public health implication would have a recognised
handling protocol which is policed carefully by the people who
produced the protocol. This is the only way things like the 'Foot
and Mouth Diseaes Virus' could have been brought to Daresbury for
example. 'Freebie' beamtime could never be used for such samples
and others like it, simply because any trip would have to be well
planned ahead, and if there is an unscheduled downtime while the
samples are here, they have to be taken away and destroyed
according to the protocol.

Other safety aspects include the unauthorised presence of heavy
atom salts and such pollutants, particularly the nasty sorts that
might even be radioactive. Here it is only a matter of safe handling
and station managers would normally allow such materials 'as long
as they are satisfied that the user is competent'. It is a major
undertaking to trsust someone else with safety matters, when it
had not been cleared beforehand.

I'm sure there are many more safety aspects that people will come
up with. This is by no means a comprehensive list.

2) Accountability: Synchrotron beamtime remains a rare commodity.
When beamline managers are disbursing this resource, they have to
adhere to the rules laid down by their funders. These sometimes
specifically allow the usage of beamtime at short notice, eg when
a declared sample fails to diffract. Others don't. The biggest
dilemma occurs when a peer-reviewed project has been deemed not
so hot, but another project by the same workers is. They get only
one award, for the hot project. If that fails to deliver, and the
'tepid' project (remember, it was not given an award) is the only
one available on the day, what do you do? One can try and invite
instead, another geographically close group, who might have a
'hot' project with an award. But if these alternative users have
not been prepared for this sudden release of beamtime, then it is
quite likely to be used inefficiently. This particular problem
will take many iterations before people get it right.

As for 'proprietary' research, that is commercial, and therefore
does not go through the peer review system. A synchrotron can
ostensibly sell beamtime to the next person, though they might
only want to indulge in 'navel gazing'. But this must not be done
in beamtime funded by other sources, or outside the rules of the
fund providers. Many caveats apply here. The list is probably
volumes large. But, for what it is, these are my interpretations
of the situation.

I look forward to a 'lively' debate. I shall dodge all the books
that will probably be thrown at me. But this topic comes up at
regular intervals, and maybe it should be stated like this. I
hope I have said it right.

Pierre Rizkallah