Saturday, July 22, 2017

X-ray crystallography yields atomic-resolution 3D images of the whole spectrum of molecules ranging from small inorganic clusters to large protein complexes consisting of hundred-thousands of atoms that constitute the macromolecular machinery of life. Life is not static, and many of the most important reactions in chemistry and biology are light induced and occur on ultrafast timescales. These have been studied with high time resolution primarily by optical spectroscopy, enabled by ultrafast laser technology, but they reduce the vast complexity of the process to a few reaction coordinates.
In the AXSIS project at CFEL-Hamburg, funded by the European Research Council, we develop the new method of attosecond serial X-ray crystallography and spectroscopy, to give a full description of ultrafast processes atomically resolved in real space and on the electronic energy landscape, from co-measurement of X-ray and optical spectra, and X-ray diffraction. This technique will revolutionize our understanding of structure and function at the atomic and molecular level and thereby unravel fundamental processes in chemistry and biology like energy conversion processes.
For that purpose, we develop a compact fully coherent, THz driven, attosecond X-ray source based on coherent inverse Compton scattering off a free-electron crystal, to outrun radiation damage effects due to the necessary high X-ray irradiance required to acquire diffraction signals. This highly synergistic project starts from a completely clean slate rather than conforming to the specifications of a large free-electron laser (FEL) user facility, to optimize the entire instrumentation towards fundamental measurements of the mechanism of light absorption and excitation energy transfer.
A multidisciplinary team formed by laser-, accelerator,- X-ray scientists and bio-chemists optimizes X-ray pulse parameters, in tandem with sample delivery, crystal size, and advanced X-ray detectors. Ultimately, the new capability, attosecond serial X-ray crystallography and spectroscopy, will be applied to one of the most important problems in structural biology, which is to elucidate the dynamics of light reactions, electron transfer and protein structure in photosynthesis.

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