Towards an Optimal Sample Delivery Method for Serial Crystallography at XFEL

Cheng, R. Y.

Crystals 2020, 10 (3), p. 215 (2020)

The advent of the X-ray free electron laser (XFEL) in the last decade created the discipline of serial crystallography but also the challenge of how crystal samples are delivered to X-ray. Early sample delivery methods demonstrated the proof-of-concept for serial crystallography and XFEL but were beset with challenges of high sample consumption, jet clogging and low data collection efficiency.

The potential of XFEL and serial crystallography as the next frontier of structural solution by X-ray for small and weakly diffracting crystals and provision of ultra-fast time-resolved structural data spawned a huge amount of scientific interest and innovation. To utilize the full potential of XFEL and broaden its applicability to a larger variety of biological samples, researchers are challenged to develop better sample delivery methods.

Thus, sample delivery is one of the key areas of research and development in the serial crystallography scientific community. Sample delivery currently falls into three main systems: jet-based methods, fixed-target chips, and drop-on-demand. Huge strides have since been made in reducing sample consumption and improving data collection efficiency, thus enabling the use of XFEL for many biological systems to provide high-resolution, radiation damage-free structural data as well as time-resolved dynamics studies. This review summarizes the current main strategies in sample delivery and their respective pros and cons, as well as some future direction.