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This Week at Physics

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Events on Friday, October 11th, 2019

Physics Department Colloquium
X-ray Free Electron Lasers (XFELs) for structural biology and more: How the (relatively) new European XFEL really can do more!
Time: 3:30 pm
Place: 2241 Chamberlin Hall
Speaker: Adrian Mancuso
Abstract: X-ray Free Electron Lasers (XFELs) are relatively new, large scale scientific facilities producing X-ray pulses of femtoseconds duration and unprecedented brilliance. These pulses provide a wealth of applications across the physical and life sciences particularly through utilizing their ability to probe ultrafast processes, radiation damage sensitive systems or simply weakly scattering (poor cross-section) systems that require many photons—and sometimes many spatially coherent photons—to observe. Of particular note is the field of serial crystallography, which holds promise to make the study of medically and environmentally relevant proteins both broader than at present and perhaps more robust. Notwithstanding XFELs’ contributions to many fields from magnetism to structural biology their application has, in part, been limited by access (most only allow a single experiment at a time) and the data rate that can be achieved in a given experiment (most sources provide a maximum of 120 pulses per second). Much more recently, a new class of XFEL has been inaugurated in the Hamburg metropolitan area of Germany. The European XFEL is capable of providing up to 27,000 pulses per second as well as serving distinct photon beams to three experiments simultaneously. In this presentation I will outline the basic properties of the European XFEL and how this vastly improved capability can be leveraged for biomolecular structure determination at the atomic scale, not only for static systems but also for systems evolving in time. Schedule permitting, I will also describe possible applications to observing dynamic processes in materials sciences on the micrometer and microsecond timescale. Along the way I’ll outline why structural biology (still) requires physicists, as well as some of the open (physical) questions that need to be addressed before XFELs can be applied to the most challenging structure determination problems in biology. To close, I’ll look forward to what we might hope can be imaged with XFELs in the not too distant future.
Host: James Lawler
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