SwissFEL makes protein structures visible

Successful pilot experiment on biomolecules at the newest large research facility of PSI

For the development of new medicinal agents, accurate knowledge of biological processes in the body is a prerequisite. Here proteins play a crucial role. At the Paul Scherrer Institute PSI, the X-ray free-electron laser SwissFEL has now, for the first time, directed its strong light onto protein crystals and made their structures visible. The special characteristics of the X-ray laser enable completely novel experiments in which scientists can watch how proteins move and change their shape. The new method, which in Switzerland is only possible at PSI, will in the future aid in the discovery of new drugs.

Less than two years after the X-ray free-electron laser SwissFEL started operations, PSI researchers, together with the Swiss company leadXpro, have successfully completed their first experiment using it to study biological molecules. With that, they have achieved another milestone before this new PSI large research facility becomes available for experiments, at the beginning of 2019, to all users from academia and industry. SwissFEL is one of only five facilities worldwide in which researchers can investigate biological processes in proteins or protein complexes with high-energy X-ray laser light.

>Read more on the SwissFEL website

Image: Michael Hennig (left) and Karol Nass at the experiment station in SwissFEL where their pilot experiment was conducted.
Credit: Paul Scherrer Institute/Mahir Dzambegovic

Movie directors with extra roles

Data storage devices based on novel materials are expected to make it possible to record information in a smaller space, at higher speed, and with greater energy efficiency than ever before.

Movies shot with the X-ray laser show what happens inside potential new storage media, as well as how the processes by which the material switches between two states can be optimised.
Henrik Lemke comes to work on his bicycle. Private cars are not allowed to drive to the SwissFEL building in the Würenlingen forest, and delivery vans and lorries need a permit. As a beamline scientist, the physicist is responsible for the experiment station named for Switzerland’s Bernina Pass. At the end of 2017, he led the first experiment at the Swiss free-electron X-ray laser, acting in effect as a movie director while SwissFEL was used, like a high-speed camera, to record how a material was selectively converted from a semiconducting to a conducting state – and back again. To this end the PSI team, together with a research group from the University of Rennes in France, studied a powder of nanocrystals made of titanium pentoxide. The sample was illuminated with infrared laser pulses that made the substance change its properties. Then X-ray pulses revealed how the crystal structure was deformed and enlarged – a cascade of dynamic processes that evidently depend on the size of the crystals.

Image: The directors: Henrik Lemke and Gerhard Ingold
Credit: Scanderbeg Sauer Photography

Biological light sensor filmed in action

Film shows one of the fastest processes in biology

Using X-ray laser technology, a team led by researchers of the Paul Scherrer Institute PSI has recorded one of the fastest processes in biology. In doing so, they produced a molecular movie that reveals how the light sensor retinal is activated in a protein molecule. Such reactions occur in numerous organisms that use the information or energy content of light – they enable certain bacteria to produce energy through photosynthesis, initiate the process of vision in humans and animals, and regulate adaptations to the circadian rhythm. The movie shows for the first time how a protein efficiently controls the reaction of the embedded light sensor. The images, now published in the journal Science, were captured at the free-electron X-ray laser LCLS at Stanford University in California. Further investigations are planned at SwissFEL, the new free-electron X-ray laser at PSI. Besides the scientists from Switzerland, researchers from Japan, the USA, Germany, Israel, and Sweden took part in this study.

>Read more on the SwissFEL at Paul Scherrer Institute website

Image: Jörg Standfuss at the injector with which protein crystals for the experiments at the Californian X-ray laser LCLS were tested. In the near future, this technology will also be available at PSI’s X-ray laser SwissFEL, for scientists from all over the world.
Credit: Paul Scherrer Institute/Mahir DzaAmbegovic

First Pilot Experiment at SwissFEL-Alvra

UV photo-induced charge transfer in OLED system

On the 17th of December 2017 SwissFEL saw its first pilot experiment in the Alvra experimental station of the SwissFEL ARAMIS beamline. A team of scientists from the University of Bremen, Krakow and PSI, led by Matthias Vogt (Univ. Bremen) and Chris Milne (PSI)in collaboration with J. Szlachetko, J. Czapla-Masztafiak, W. M. Kwiatek (Inst. of Nucl.Phys. PAN (Krakow), successfully did the first pilot experiment at SwissFEL-Alvra on UV photo-induced charge transfer in OLED system.

With ever-increasing demands on low-cost, low-power display technology, significant resources have been invested in identifying OLED materials that are based on Earth-abundant materials while maintaining high internal quantum efficiencies. The recent pilot experiment performed at SwissFEL’s Alvra experimental station aimed to use X-ray spectroscopy to investigate a promising OLED candidate based on copper and phosphorus. This molecule, synthesized by Dr. Matthias Vogt from the University of Bremen, is based on a physical phenomenon called thermally activated delayed fluorescence, which allows for extremely high energy efficiencies to be achieved. The experiment probed how the phosphorus atoms are involved in the fluorescence process as a complement to longer-timescale measurements on the copper atoms performed at the Swiss Light Source’s SuperXAS beamline by Dr. Grigory Smolentsev and collaborators. The SwissFEL measurements confirm that the phosphorus atoms are directly involved in the charge transfer process in the molecule, and lay the foundation for future investigations of the mechanisms behind the efficiency of the delayed fluorescence process.

>Read more on the SwissFEL website

Figure: please find here the full figure