December 2022 ESRFnews
L O R É A L- U N ES
As a young doctoral student at the University of Sussex in the UK in the early 2000s, Irene Margiolaki became familiar with the use of X-ray powder diffraction (XRPD) to study synthetic materials. On joining the ESRF as a postdoc at the ID31 beamline, however, the Greek physicist had a more radical application in mind for the technique: the study of proteins that do not easily form large, good-quality crystals. Although Bob Von Dreele, a US scientist, had published work suggesting it was possible, the idea was very much in its infancy, and Margiolaki had an uphill battle convincing biochemists and structural biologists that it was worthwhile. With every result we published, people began to think, it is not so crazy after all, she recalls. Indeed, thanks to the efforts
of her and her colleagues, XRPD has, over the years, become an accepted routine method in protein crystallography. In 2004, the British Crystallographic Association gave her team (led by the ESRF s Andy Fitch) an award in recognition of their research; in 2010, she received a L Oréal-UNESCO fellowship for women in science; and in 2019, she authored a chapter about XRPD and proteins for the primary reference book in the field (International Tables for Crystallography, vol. H: Powder Diffraction, p718). Meanwhile, she has shown the strength of the technique in other areas. For example, she provided high quality XRPD data for one of the first metal-organic frameworks (MOF) materials with great potential for energy storage and industrial catalysis synthesised by Gérard Férey and colleagues at the Université de Versailles Saint-Quentin in France. The resultant paper has been cited over 4,800 times, making it one of the most cited with ESRF authorship (Science 309 2040).
Despite currently running a 15-strong research group back on the Greek mainland at the University of Patras, she still feels like the ESRF is a second home to her. It s very emotional for me, she says. Our scientific bond is really strong. We come at least once or twice a year to do research, and we participate in many ESRF activities, such as the User Meeting. Now, in pushing for Greek
participation in the ESRF, her hope is that other Greek scientists will have the same opportunities that she has enjoyed. Margiolaki has worked towards the creation of a Greek synchrotron users network, which more than 500 scientists have joined; she has organised an ESRF information day at the University of Patras; and she has even helped organise the first Greek summer school for synchrotron-radiation properties and applications, which took place recently in Thessaloniki (see esrf.gr). There is a great desire among my colleagues in Greece, she says. We ve done everything that we can. We strongly believe that one day our dream will come true enhancing scientific research in Greece. For Margiolaki, nothing is a lost
cause. Her successful experiments on poorly crystallising proteins have demonstrated that even things discarded by others in the scientific community can hold a lot of promise. The EBS upgrade has allowed her to carry out these experiments faster, and has opened up vistas for other, complementary techniques that she uses such as serial synchrotron crystallography (see News, p7). I come from Crete; we re a little bit enthusiastic and never give up! she says.
Despite the doubters, Irene Margiolaki helped pioneer the use of powder diffraction for poor protein crystals. Now she is spearheading a drive for Greek participation in the ESRF.
Bold ambiti on
IRENE MARGIOLAKI IN BRIEF BORN: Heraklion, Crete, Greece. EDUCATION: Degree in physics, University of Crete, Heraklion, (1999); DPhil, University of Sussex, UK (2004). CAREER: Post-doctoral fellow, then instrument scientist, ESRF (2003 2010); member of the European Powder Diffraction Committee (2009 ); associate professor, University of Patras, Greece (2010 ); member of the Hellenic Crystallographic Association Committee (2012 2018); member of the Board of Directors, Patras Science Park (2016 2021); co-editor, Acta Crystallographica section A: Foundations and Advances (2020 ).
The ESRF is a second home to me. Our scientific
bond is really strong