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The DOE Science News Source is a Newswise initiative to promote research news from the Office of Science of the DOE to the public and news media.
  • 2018-03-07 14:05:54
  • Article ID: 690742

With Laser Light, Scientists Create First X-Ray Holographic Images of Viruses

Using SLAC's X-ray laser, researchers have made the detailed 3-D images of nanoscale biology, with future applications in the study of air pollution, combustion and catalytic processes.

  • Credit: Anatoli Ulmer and Taisia Gorkhover / The Technical University of Berlin and SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory

    This image shows simulated X-ray diffraction patterns that form an in-flight hologram. The depth information is captured from the curved lines.

  • Credit: Anatoli Ulmer and Taisia Gorkhover / The Technical University of Berlin and SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory

    In the new study, the authors superimposed scattered X-ray light from the mimivirus with scattered X-ray light from a reference sphere (main image). The curvature in the superimposed images from the two objects provided depth information and details about the shape of the virus. The image in the lower right corner is a holographic reconstruction of the virus based on the X-ray diffraction patterns collected during the experiment.

  • Credit: Anatoli Ulmer and Taisia Gorkhover / The Technical University of Berlin and SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory

    Illustration showing the principle of in-flight holography. (Left) The X-rays scatter off two spheres and form a characteristic diffraction pattern. The patterns are recorded using the very intense X-ray beam of SLAC’s X-ray laser, the Linac Coherent Light Source (LCLS). (Center) Changes in size and distance of the spheres are reflected in the patterns which can be directly translated from the diffraction alone. The smaller sphere can act as a holographic reference. (Right) If the spheres are shifted out of plane, the fine lines of the diffraction pattern become curved. The signatures of the position and size of the reference allow researchers to reconstruct the 3-D distances between the small sphere (reference) and the large sphere.

Holography, like photography, is a way to record the world around us. Both use light to make recordings, but instead of two-dimensional photos, holograms reproduce three-dimensional shapes. The shape is inferred from the patterns that form after light ricochets off an object and interferes with another light wave that serves as a reference.

When created with X-ray light, holography can be an extremely useful method for capturing high-resolution images of a nanoscale object—something that is so small, its size is measured in nanometers, or billionths of a meter.

So far, X-ray holography has been restricted to objects that form crystals or relied on careful positioning of the sample on a surface. However, many nano-sized particles are non-crystalline, short-lived and very fragile. They may also suffer changes or damage during an experiment when positioned on a surface. Aerosols, exotic states of matter, and the smallest forms of life often fall into these categories and therefore are difficult to study with conventional imaging methods.

In a recent study featured on the March 2018 cover of Nature Photonics, researchers developed a new holographic method called in-flight holography. With this method, they were able to demonstrate the first X-ray holograms of nano-sized viruses that were not attached to any surface.

The patterns needed to create the images were taken at the Linac Coherent Light Source (LCLS), the X-ray free-electron laser at the Department of Energy’s SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory. Nanoviruses have been studied at LCLS without a holographic reference, but the interpretation of the X-ray images required many steps, relied on human input and was a computationally challenging task.

In the new study, the authors superimposed scattered X-ray light from the virus with scattered X-ray light from a reference nano-sized sphere. The curvature in the superimposed images from the two objects provided depth information and details about the shape of the 450-nanometer-wide virus, the mimivirus. This technique greatly simplified the interpretation of the data.

“Instead of thousands of steps and algorithms that potentially don’t match up, you have a two-step procedure where you clearly get the structure out of your image,” says lead study author Tais Gorkhover, a Panofsky Fellowat SLAC and researcher at the Stanford PULSE Institute.

Now, the scientists can do their reconstruction of a sample in fractions of a second or even faster with the holographic method.

“Before our study, the interpretation of the X-ray images was very complicated and the structure of nanosamples was reconstructed long after the actual experiment using non-trivial algorithms,” says Christoph Bostedt, a scientist at the DOE’s Argonne National Laboratory and a co-author of the study. “With ‘in-flight’ holography, the procedure is very simple and in principle can be performed while taking data. This is a real breakthrough.”

“Another advantage of the in-flight holography method is that it is less prone to noise and to the artifacts that can appear in the detector compared to non-holographic X-ray imaging,” says Anatoli Ulmer, a co-author and PhD student from the Technical University of Berlin in Germany.

In the long run, the researchers predict that in-flight holography will offer new ways to study air pollution, combustion and catalytic processes, all of which involve nanoparticles.

An international team of scientists from the DOE’s Lawrence Berkeley and Brookhaven national laboratories, the Chalmers University of Technology in Sweden, the Czech Academy of Science, Deutsches Elektronen-Synchrotron (DESY) in Germany, the Institute of Optics and Atomic Physics in Germany, the Institute for Solid State Physics and Optics in Hungary, KTH Royal Institute of Technology in Sweden, Northwestern University and Uppsala University in Sweden also contributed to this research.

LCLS is a DOE Office of Science user facility.

SLAC is a multi-program laboratory exploring frontier questions in photon science, astrophysics, particle physics and accelerator research. Located in Menlo Park, Calif., SLAC is operated by Stanford University for the U.S. Department of Energy's Office of Science. For more informatiom, please visit

SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory is supported by the Office of Science of the U.S. Department of Energy. The Office of Science is the single largest supporter of basic research in the physical sciences in the United States, and is working to address some of the most pressing challenges of our time. For more information, please visit

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Halos Look Good on Angels, but Could Damage Fusion Energy Devices

A team of researchers has compiled a database of information from five fusion machines and found that halo currents could damage the walls of fusion devices like ITER, the international experiment under construction in France to demonstrate the feasibility of fusion power.

Small Poke -- Huge Unexpected Response

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Out of Thin Air

Argonne researchers conducted basic science computational studies as part of a collaboration with researchers at the University of Illinois at Chicago to design a "beyond-lithium-ion" battery cell that operates by running on air over many charge and discharge cycles. The design offers energy storage capacity about three times that of a lithium-ion battery, with significant potential for further improvements.

COSMIC Impact: Next-Gen X-ray Microscopy Platform Now Operational

COSMIC, a next-generation X-ray beamline now operating at Berkeley Lab, brings together a unique set of capabilities to measure the properties of materials at the nanoscale. It allows scientists to probe working batteries and other active chemical reactions, and to reveal new details about magnetism and correlated electronic materials.

Design Approach Developed for Important New Catalysts for Energy Conversion and Storage

Northwestern University researchers have discovered a new approach for creating important new catalysts to aid in clean energy conversion and storage. The method also has the potential to impact the discovery of new optical and data storage materials and catalysts for higher efficiency processing of petroleum products at lower cost. The researchers created a catalyst that is seven times more active than state-of-the-art commercial platinum by combining theory, a new tool for synthesizing nanoparticles and more than one metallic element.

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Flexible, tunable technique warms plants without need for electricity, aiding ecosystem research in remote locales.

Weird Superconductor Leads Double Life

Understanding strontium titanate's odd behavior will aid efforts to develop materials that conduct electricity with 100 percent efficiency at higher temperatures.

Engineering Yeast Tolerance to a Promising Biomass Deconstruction Solvent

Chemical genomic-guided engineering of gamma-valerolactone-tolerant yeast.

Beyond the WIMP: Unique Crystals Could Expand the Search for Dark Matter

A new particle detector design proposed at the U.S. Department of Energy's Berkeley Lab could greatly broaden the search for dark matter - which makes up 85 percent of the total mass of the universe yet we don't know what it's made of - into an unexplored realm.

20 Percent of Americans Responsible for Almost Half of US Food-Related Greenhouse Gas Emissions

On any given day, 20 percent of Americans account for nearly half of U.S. diet-related greenhouse gas emissions, and high levels of beef consumption are largely responsible, according to a new study from researchers at the University of Michigan and Tulane University.

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Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute Professor Jian Shi Receives Air Force Young Investigator Research Program Award

Jian Shi, assistant professor of materials science and engineering at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, has won a Young Investigator Research Program (YIP) award from the Air Force Office of Scientific Research (AFOSR). Shi will use the three-year, $450,000 grant to pursue fundamental research on nanoscale complex materials that could lead to the development of next-generation resilient and high-performance energy conversion and sensing technologies.

Kerstin Kleese van Dam Receives 32nd Town of Brookhaven Annual Women's Recognition Award for Science

The award recognizes the contributions Kleese van Dam--director of Brookhaven Lab's Computational Science Initiative since 2015--has made to scientific computing and data management over the past three decades.

Jefferson Lab Announces New Accelerator Science Leader

The Department of Energy's Thomas Jefferson National Accelerator Facility has announced that Andrei Seryi will become its new associate director for accelerator operations, research and development in June.

First Plasma for New Machine to Study Puzzling Process That Occurs Throughout the Universe

Announcement describes completion of construction of FLARE, a powerful new machine to study magnetic reconnection.

Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute Professor Jian Sun Receives Power Electronics Achievement Award

Jian Sun, professor of electrical, computer, and systems engineering and director the New York State Center for Future Energy Systems at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, received the 2017 R. David Middlebrook Outstanding Achievement Award from the IEEE Power Electronics Society (PELS). He was recognized for "contributions to modeling and control of power electronic converters and systems."

FGC Plasma Solutions Wins Top NASA Innovation Award

Argonne Chain Reaction Innovator Felipe Gomez del Campo has received the 2018 NASA iTech award for X-Factor Innovation.

Sandia Researcher Jacqueline Chen Elected to National Academy of Engineering

LIVERMORE, Calif. -- Jacqueline Chen, a distinguished member of the technical staff at Sandia National Laboratories, has been elected to the National Academy of Engineering. Chen is among the 99 new members from around the globe in the 2018 class.Election to the National Academy of Engineering is the highest professional distinction for an engineer in the United States.

PNNL Helps Form International Energy Storage Organization

News Release DALIAN, China -- Energy storage allows power operators across the nation to balance electricity supply and demand instantaneously, affording ratepayers a more resilient power supply.Now the focus on energy storage is global. In January, energy storage experts at the Department of Energy's Pacific Northwest National Laboratory joined forces with their counterparts around the world to forge the International Coalition for Energy Storage and Innovation, or ICESI.

University Partnership to Help Nevada Scientists Commercialize Discovery

UNLV's Office of Technology Transfer and the Desert Research are partnering to help faculty and students leverage each other's talent and resources to transform inventions into new products and services.

DOE Seeks Industry Partners for HPC Research on Materials in Applied Energy Technologies

The Department of Energy (DOE) today announced a funding opportunity totaling $3 million to support projects between U.S. industry and DOE national laboratories related to improving materials in severe or complex environments through the new High Performance Computing for Materials in Applied Energy Technologies (HPC4Mtls) Program.

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Small Poke -- Huge Unexpected Response

Exotic material exhibits an optical response in enormous disproportion to the stimulus -- larger than in any known crystal.

Turning Up the Heat on Remote Research Plots Without Electricity

Flexible, tunable technique warms plants without need for electricity, aiding ecosystem research in remote locales.

Engineering Yeast Tolerance to a Promising Biomass Deconstruction Solvent

Chemical genomic-guided engineering of gamma-valerolactone-tolerant yeast.

Saplings Survive Droughts via Storage

Certain species of trees retain stored water, limit root growth to survive three months without water.

Unlocking On-Package Memory's Effects on High-Performance Computing's Scientific Kernels

Intuitive visual analytical model better explains complex architectural scenarios and offers general design principles.

Data Dive: How Microbes Handle Poor Nutrition in Tropical Soil

High-performance computing reveals the relationship between DNA and phosphorous uptake.

The Secret Lives of Cells

Supercomputer simulations predict how E. coli adapts to environmental stresses.

It's Not Part of the Problem, but Part of the Solution

Americium(III) is selectively and efficiently separated from europium(III) by an extractant in an ionic liquid.

Buckyball Marries Graphene

Electronic and structure richness arise from the merger of semiconducting molecules of carbon buckyballs and 2-D graphene.

Atomic Movies Explain Why Perovskite Solar Cells Are More Efficient

Tracking atoms is crucial to improving the efficiency of next-generation perovskite solar cells.


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