A great challenge is to direct x-rays into a very small, very clean footprint while maintaining high photon flux.
A great challenge at many x-ray beamlines is to direct x-rays into a very small, very clean footprint while maintaining high photon flux. This is especially important when illuminating very small samples, as in protein microcrystallography where crystals can be on the order of a micron across and diffract weakly compared to larger crystals. Any excess scatter in these conditions will contribute unwanted noise and decrease the overall signal-to-noise ratio – an important measure of data quality. Consider an experiment where you first must take the water from a firehose and somehow get a water thread thinner than a human hair without any mist! That is akin to the scale of creating x-ray microbeam at CHESS.
One solution would be to simply block the x-rays down to the size desired, but this has the unfortunate side effect of throwing away vast numbers of photons. Fortunately, x-rays can be manipulated similar to visual light and therefore focused using optical components such as mirrors and lenses. Recently, an optical design of interest at CHESS incorporates the focusing power of x-ray compound refractive lenses (CRLs) to create an x-ray beam on the order of microns across – effectively, a microbeam.
Picture: The assembled and aligned lenses in their casing. Two brass pinholes bookend the stack of lenses, which all sit in a v-groove designed to be sub-micrometer in accuracy.