By outrunning a laser’s path of destruction, an international research team has created 3D images of fragile but biologically important molecules inside protein nanocrystals. Using the Linac Coherence Light Source (LCLS), a powerful X-ray laser at the SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory in Menlo Park, Calif., the scientists fired femtosecond (one quadrillionth of a second) bursts of light at a stream of tumbling molecules, obliterating them as they pass, but not before capturing otherwise illusive images of their crystalline structures.
An overview and early results of this new imaging technique will be presented at the 2012 meeting of the American Crystallographic Association (ACA), which takes place July 28 – Aug. 1 in Boston, Mass.“These laser pulses are so brief that we are able to outrun the radiation’s damaging effects,” said John C.H. Spence of Arizona State University, one of more than 70 international researchers from institutions including SLAC; DESY, the German Electron Synchrotron; and the Max-Planck Institute in Heidelberg, Germany.
To obtain images of these molecules in the more natural state, the researchers sent the protein nanocrystals streaming in a single-file micron-sized droplet beam (rather like an ink-jet printer) in vacuum across the X-ray beam, in a method developed at Arizona State University.Next they fired incredibly brief bursts of X-ray laser light, about 100 times each second, at the molecules in the droplet beam, and detected the scattered X-ray patterns from each particle before the intensity of the beam blasted them apart. The researchers were able to combine these millions of snapshots to build up 3D models of the molecules with atomic-scale resolution.
A complete listing of the collaborating research institutions follows:
Catherine Meyers | Newswise Science News
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