X-ray Free Electron Lasers

X-ray Free Electron Lasers (XFEL) produce a stream of unimaginably intense X-rays and in unimaginably short pulses, so intense and so rapid that they can capture the fastest biological processes. X-ray Free Electron Lasers offer a unique and exciting opportunity to explore biological mechanisms in areas that were previously thought impossible.

  To make full use of this multiple disciplines are required. Technology has to be developed for sample preparation and delivery; algorithms have to be developed to efficiently deal with massive quantities of data and to extract structural information. An educated community has to be developed to understand this information and the research possibilities that are incited.

Today scientists can create amazingly detailed, three-dimensional images of molecules, through a process called X-ray crystallography. Such imagery provides a basis for the rational design of drugs, and for an atomic understanding of life processes. For example, all of our current anti-HIV drugs were developed using such images, but the process may fail. Molecular structures are derived from the patterns created when an X-ray beam bounces off a crystal, and breaks up into a family of secondary beams that flash out in all directions. BioXFEL will be developing the technology and infrastructure to support an astonishing new X-ray beam created at Stanford--a beam expanding new horizons to crystallography.

What can this phenomenal beam do?

  • It can allow us to use crystals a thousand times smaller than the ones we use now. Currently, most attempts at growing large crystals fail. Small crystals grow more readily, and we will now be able to study these new and important targets.
  • The pulses in the X-ray beam freeze the motions of molecules to create frames of a "molecular movie". Many proteins move as a key part of their function, and other technologies are inadequate to monitor such movements.
  • As the LCLS is upgraded, the scientist’s dream of focusing upon the single molecule becomes more promising.