XFELs for structure and dynamics in biology

John Spence

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

126 Scopus citations


The development and application of the free-electron X-ray laser (XFEL) to structure and dynamics in biology since its inception in 2009 are reviewed. The research opportunities which result from the ability to outrun most radiation-damage effects are outlined, and some grand challenges are suggested. By avoiding the need to cool samples to minimize damage, the XFEL has permitted atomic resolution imaging of molecular processes on the 100fs timescale under near-physiological conditions and in the correct thermal bath in which molecular machines operate. Radiation damage, comparisons of XFEL and synchrotron work, single-particle diffraction, fast solution scattering, pump-probe studies on photosensitive proteins, mix-and-inject experiments, caged molecules, pH jump and other reaction-initiation methods, and the study of molecular machines are all discussed. Sample-delivery methods and data-analysis algorithms for the various modes, from serial femtosecond crystallography to fast solution scattering, fluctuation X-ray scattering, mixing jet experiments and single-particle diffraction, are also reviewed.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)322-339
Number of pages18
StatePublished - 2017


  • X-ray lasers
  • XFELs
  • biology
  • dynamics
  • structure

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Chemistry(all)
  • Biochemistry
  • Materials Science(all)
  • Condensed Matter Physics


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