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X-Rays, Lasers, and Proteins

Event Date: August 22, 2014
Speaker: Rick Millane
Speaker Affiliation: University of Canterbury
Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering
Time: 10:30am
Location: EE 317


Structural biology is concerned with understanding biological function through studying the structures of the molecules of life – biological macromolecules. The three-dimensional structures (shapes) of these molecules determine their biological function, information that is essential for understanding disease processes and for drug design. One of the primary techniques for imaging biological macromolecules is x-ray crystallography, which involves shooting x-rays at protein crystals, measuring the resulting diffraction pattern, and then inverting the data to obtain an image of the molecule. X-ray free-electron lasers (XFELs) are the latest x-ray sources, that produce extremely short x-ray pulses that are a million times brighter than those produced by existing synchrotron x-ray sources. Their unique characteristics are opening up a new frontier in protein structure imaging.

I will begin with a tutorial overview of protein structure and x-ray crystallography (“structural biology for engineers”), and then describe some of the intricacies of XFELs and the signal processing challenges involved with using the data they produce for protein structure determination.