X-ray lasers for structural and dynamic biology

John Spence, Uwe Weierstall, H. N. Chapman

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

183 Scopus citations


Research opportunities and techniques are reviewed for the application of hard x-ray pulsed free-electron lasers (XFEL) to structural biology. These include the imaging of protein nanocrystals, single particles such as viruses, pump-probe experiments for time-resolved nanocrystallography, and snapshot wide-angle x-ray scattering (WAXS) from molecules in solution. The use of femtosecond exposure times, rather than freezing of samples, as a means of minimizing radiation damage is shown to open up new opportunities for the molecular imaging of biochemical reactions at room temperature in solution. This is possible using a diffract-and-destroy mode in which the incident pulse terminates before radiation damage begins. Methods for delivering hundreds of hydrated bioparticles per second (in random orientations) to a pulsed x-ray beam are described. New data analysis approaches are outlined for the correlated fluctuations in fast WAXS, for protein nanocrystals just a few molecules on a side, and for the continuous x-ray scattering from a single virus. Methods for determining the orientation of a molecule from its diffraction pattern are reviewed. Methods for the preparation of protein nanocrystals are also reviewed. New opportunities for solving the phase problem for XFEL data are outlined. A summary of the latest results is given, which now extend to atomic resolution for nanocrystals. Possibilities for time-resolved chemistry using fast WAXS (solution scattering) from mixtures is reviewed, toward the general goal of making molecular movies of biochemical processes.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number102601
JournalReports on Progress in Physics
Issue number10
StatePublished - Oct 2012

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Physics and Astronomy


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