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Report on the CCP4 Summer School at St. Andrews

Organisers: Garry Taylor and Jim Naismith, University of St. Andrews

The participants arrived on St. Andrews on Sunday the 23rd August (except a few latecomers from a minster city) for a week long intensive course on Protein Crystallography. In the end 26 students from all over the UK attended the School, whittled down from over 40 applicants. The work started 9.00am Monday with Garry Taylor welcoming the students to the new Biomolecular Sciences Builing in St. Andrews. To squeeze everything in, lectures came in 11/2 hour blocks, with a 1/2 hour coffee break or lunch between each block. Steve Wood (Southampton) and Phil Jackson (Perseptive) dealt in some depth with protein expression, analysis and crystallisation. This was well received by the students as majority of them are struggling with the molecular biology rather than X-ray analysis in their projects. At the ice breaker on Monday evening, 10 minutes to tell it like it is, some students had taken heart from that days lectures.

Elspeth Garman (Oxford), stole the show with her 'how to do it' guide to data collection and cryocrystallography. Rumours that she was starting an alternative and complimentary crystallography were unfounded when she confessed that the acupuncture needles were for moving crystals not stabbing bacteria or SF9 cells. A couple of students though they had some merit in supervisor control. The University provided a PC classroom which enabled all the students to actually play around with MOSFLM (thanks to Martin Noble and Andrew Leslie). The St. Andrews computers groaned under the strain but it was good that each student got a chance to try to process some data. Jim Naismith tried to explain to the students what CCP4 is and why they should support it. Liz Potterton (CCP4, York) got the new CCP4 GUI running and the students got a chance to play around with it. It was interesting that many of the students had no experience with computer operating systems except Windows. Tuesday evening everyone unwound by going ten pin bowling, smashing skittles over seemed a good way to escape from reciprocal space.

Garry Taylor popped up again to tell them what structure factors are, how to calculate and solve Pattersons and how to find non-crystallographic symmetry. Ian Tickle (Birbeck) told us in depth how we refine heavy atoms, some pitfalls and some tips. He explained how the derivatives lead to phases and the role of probability in deciding what phase to use. Bill Hunter (Dundee) appeared and urged everyone to go MAD. Many of the students came away energised to try their hand at this increasingly routine technique. Wednesday evening, subtitled at home with Struther Arnott was the conference dinner. Principal Arnott, (the Vice-chancellor of the University to those south of the Tweed) hosted a champagne reception at his house and acted as a tour guide. He had arranged a visit to the University Chapel (which dates from the 15th Century) and gave an amusing account of the University's turbulent history since its foundation in 1410. At the School dinner, he spoke about his own experience as a student in diffraction which involved sleeping inside the computer at night to check the valves kept working.

On Thursday morning, Garry Taylor delved into averaging and phase extension. Rupert Russell (St. Andrews) ran a practical on molecular replacement, again one student per computer. The final day Susan Crennell (Bath) gave an example of and ran a practical on electron density fitting. The students had to split into teams for this, as St. Andrews did not have one graphics workstation per student (funding agencies take note). For some students this was their first glimpse of electron density in all its glory. In the afternoon, Jim Naismith talked about refinement, some pitfalls and some recipes. The light hearted tone was continued and expanded upon by Pete Artymuik (Sheffield) who discussed validation, deposition and what a structure actually tells you. He produced some pretty incriminating photographic evidence of style deficiency at Birbeck in the early 80's.

A survey of the students revealed all found the course very useful and informative. All the students found it very hard going and a lot of material to cope with. Many expressed a desire to spend another week. The residences were thought to be comfortable and the lecture theatre good.

Garry and Jim are very grateful to all the tutors and lectures. They pulled out all the stops preparing detailed handouts and giving well thought out lectures. All lectures were highly rated by the students. Behind the scenes Margaret Wilson (St. Andrews) provided outstanding secretarial support, photocopying, typing and phoning.

The School costs money to run. Nearly all students were completely financed including travel costs. The bulk of the financial support comes from CCP4. The BBSRC contributed generously also and the MRC paid for their students to attend. The School was fortunate to have had generous support from Perkin Elmer Biosystems, MAR, Brucker, Pfizer, Molecular Structure Corporation, Unilever and Zeneca. The University of St. Andrews was generous with its in kind donations of resources. The next school in St. Andrews is 2001. The next CCP4 summer school is in Bristol in 2000.

Jim Naismith

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