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Nat Commun. 2012;3:1276. doi: 10.1038/ncomms2288.

Single-particle structure determination by correlations of snapshot X-ray diffraction patterns.

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PULSE Institute, SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory, 2575 Sand Hill Road, Menlo Park, California 94025, USA.


Diffractive imaging with free-electron lasers allows structure determination from ensembles of weakly scattering identical nanoparticles. The ultra-short, ultra-bright X-ray pulses provide snapshots of the randomly oriented particles frozen in time, and terminate before the onset of structural damage. As signal strength diminishes for small particles, the synthesis of a three-dimensional diffraction volume requires simultaneous involvement of all data. Here we report the first application of a three-dimensional spatial frequency correlation analysis to carry out this synthesis from noisy single-particle femtosecond X-ray diffraction patterns of nearly identical samples in random and unknown orientations, collected at the Linac Coherent Light Source. Our demonstration uses unsupported test particles created via aerosol self-assembly, and composed of two polystyrene spheres of equal diameter. The correlation analysis avoids the need for orientation determination entirely. This method may be applied to the structural determination of biological macromolecules in solution.


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