Students explore the X-ray factor

Collyer's X-Ray Factor
Collyer's X-Ray Factor

Lucky Collyer’s Chemistry students spent a day in the labs of Professor Jon Cooper, at the Royal Free Hospital campus of UCL, experiencing life as X-ray crystallographers.

X-ray crystallography is the study of protein structure at the atomic level and knowledge of protein structure provides key information that allows for the design of therapeutic drugs.

The majority of drugs used in modern medicine have been designed with information gleaned from X-ray crystallography.

After a fascinating lecture by Professor Cooper on the history and development of X-ray crystallography, students moved to the wet labs to set up crystal trials in an attempt to grow protein crystals for analysis.

The students were later given the opportunity to freeze crystal using liquid nitrogen, have a tour of the X-ray generator and then enjoy a session focussing on the computer modelling of protein-drug complexes.

Dr Rob Hussey, Subject Leader for Chemistry said: “This is the fifth year that UCL and Collyer’s have collaborated on this project. Professor Cooper and his team have been extremely generous with their time and resources.

“The students really enjoyed the unique experience of getting ‘hands-on’ with cutting edge research methods in a working research laboratory. X-ray crystallography is a wonderfully powerful technique and given our students successes on the day, future research in this area looks to be in safe hands.”

Protein crystals can be extremely tricky to grow, so it was particularly impressive that all students were successful in this task.

Collyer’s Emma Wilcock and Lauren Overend’s crystals were of such high quality that they could have been used for proper research purposes!

Collyer’s vice-principal Steve Nicholls was very proud: “We owe massive thanks to UCL’s Professor Cooper and our very own Dr Rob Hussey for making this wonderful educational experience possible. It’s brilliant that some of our talented students’ work on the day could have been used for professional research.

“They clearly have the X-ray factor!”

Dr Rob Hussey added: “As a follow up to this trip, AS students will be given the chance to visit the leading synchrotron facility in Europe for X-ray crystallography at the Diamond Light Source in Oxfordshire this November, which will also be a fantastic opportunity.”

Contributed by Collyers