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Under fire: silicon-chip within the x-ray laser

You cannot always buy everything to fulfil every scientist's need. This silicon-chip originates from the workshop "self-made". It is built to be destroyed. Chrystals of a protein whose 3D-structure is unknown are placed onto the chip.

And if you want to reveal the secrets of proteins, the all-rounders in our cells, you have to be destructive. High-energy x-ray pulses are generated within x-ray lasers. The crystals are vaporized immediately when hit by such an x-ray pulse.

The beam of the x-ray laser is focused on a tiny spot on the chip and an x-ray pulse is released. These pulses are short fractions of seconds long but are so intense that they leave little holes on the chip. A high-speed detector behind the chips records the radiographs of the crystal.The the laser focusses on the next position.

It takes only 10 minutes to scan such a chip completely and up to 63,000 x-ray snap-shots are obtained. The protein structure can be analysed with these radiographs.

The detector recording the x-ray Images was called "Road Runner" by the scientists. As the US comic figure it is incredibly fast.


Henry Chapman, this year's laureate of the Röntgen Medal, kindly provided this special exhibit. Both chips were used in an experiment at the LCLS (Linac Coherent Light Source) in Standford (California, USA) with the first high-energy x-ray laser worldwide, in November 2016. Miriam Barthelmess, scientist in his working group, built the chip.