Scientists have used X-rays to study biological molecules for nearly a century. Now with the X-ray free electron laser (XFEL), new methods have been developed to advance structural biology. These new methods include serial femtosecond crystallography, single particle imaging, solution scattering, and time resolved techniques.
The XFEL is characterized by high intensity pulses, which are only about 50 femtoseconds in duration. The intensity allows for scattering from microscopic particles, while the short pulses offer a way to outrun radiation damage. XFELs are powerful enough to obliterate most samples in a single pulse. While this allows for a “diffract and destroy” methodology, it also requires instrumentation that can position microscopic particles into the X-ray beam (which may also be microscopic), continuously renew the sample after each pulse, and maintain sample viability during data collection.
Typically these experiments have used liquid microjets to continuously renew sample. The high flow rate associated with liquid microjets requires large amounts of sample, most of which runs to waste between pulses. An injector designed to stream a viscous gel-like material called lipidic cubic phase (LCP) was developed to address this problem. LCP, commonly used as a growth medium for membrane protein crystals, lends itself to low flow rate jetting and so reduces the amount of sample wasted significantly.
This work discusses sample delivery and injection for XFEL experiments. It reviews the liquid microjet method extensively, and presents the LCP injector as a novel device for serial crystallography, including detailed protocols for the LCP injector and anti-settler operation.