The 2007 scientific highlights from the Soft Condensed Matter Group beamlines cover a large range of scientific topics. This diversity is exemplified by the articles that will be mentioned within this introduction which reveal multiple links to neighbouring disciplines including surface science, structural biology and materials science. The ability to unite such a diverse range of scientific themes has become one of the Soft Condensed Matter Group’s greatest strengths.

The importance of short range interactions at aqueous electrolyte solution interfaces has been deduced from grazing-incidence X-ray fluorescence at ID10B. New approaches to reach atomic resolution in surface diffraction on Langmuir films have also been explored at the same beamline. At first glance these two topics may seem unrelated, yet they are both contributing to similar goals which are to enhance our understanding of protein crystallisation and the structure of thin protein films.

A glimpse into the fascinating world of the microstructure and dynamics of ultrathin liquid films is provided by coherent X-ray scattering experiments performed at ID10A. The experiments, conducted in parallel at the APS beamline 8ID, contribute to our understanding of adsorption and wetting processes which are technologically important.

At ID02 and ID13, the very onset of structural developments during polymer and biopolymer processing have been explored using SAXS/WAXS techniques. Polypropylene crystallisation has been investigated with unprecedented sensitivity at ID02. This has allowed the elusive event of primary nucleation to be observed. At ID13, the very onset of cotton mercerisation by alkaline solution has been studied using a submicrometre beam. This demonstrates how industrial processes can be scaled down for study, in this case to the level of a single cotton fibre. This requires nanolitre reaction volumes generated by an inkjet system.

Microfluidic devices such as inkjet systems have enormous development potential for chemical and biological applications. The current challenge for the Soft Condensed Matter Group is to establish partnerships with external users and strengthen existing collaborations with other European synchrotron radiation beamlines. The SAXIER FP6 project serves as the catalyst to bring experts and users from the SAXS field together.

C. Riekel