Manufacturing Bits: Dec. 3

Microscopic movie star; watching electrons; molecular movies.


Microscopic movie star
Using a 3D printer and a scanning electron microscope (SEM), a group has created a short animated film featuring the world’s smallest 3D figurine.

The stop motion film, called Stardust Odyssey, features a 3D human-like figurine with a height of 300 microns, or close to the size of a grain of dust.

This beat the previous record for the smallest figure in a film. Nokia held the previous record with a figurine measuring 10mm in height.

Stardust Odyssey is written and directed by Tibo Pinsard. It is a co-production by Darrowan Prod, the Université de Franche-Comté represented by the FEMTO-ST Institute and the Université Libre de Bruxelles represented by the TIPS laboratory. It is supported by the Region Bourgogne Franche-Comté.

The microscopic figurine was printed using a two-photon nanoprinter. To film the movie frame by frame, the filmmaker used a SEM. The SEM produced the film in a vacuum chamber. The SEM made use of miniaturized robots, which could manipulate the figurines in a vacuum.

Watching electrons
The Department of Energy’s SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory has developed a technology to observe the movements of electrons.

The technology, called X-ray laser-enhanced attosecond pulse generation (XLEAP), makes use of X-ray laser bursts at 280 attoseconds, or billionths of a billionth of a second. The new method creates snapshots of electrons in chemical processes. Applications include biology, chemistry and materials science.

The system creates a beam of electrons. The electrons are bundled and sent through a linear particle accelerator at almost the speed of light. Then, they pass through a magnet, where energy is converted into X-ray bursts. This in turn sets the electrons in motion. The system records those movements. These snapshots can be strung together into stop-action movies.

Source: Greg Stewart/SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory

“Until now, we could precisely observe the motions of atomic nuclei, but the much faster electron motions that actually drive chemical reactions were blurred out,” said SLAC scientist James Cryan. “With this advance, we’ll be able to use an X-ray laser to see how electrons move around and how that sets the stage for the chemistry that follows. It pushes the frontiers of ultrafast science.”

Molecular movies
A group has made new and fast molecular movies at the European XFEL, the world’s largest X-ray laser.

Researchers have created a short molecular movie, which shows part of the structure of a photoreactive yellow protein. The sequence runs from 100 femtosecond (fs) to 100 picoseconds (ps). An fs is one quadrillionth of a second, while a ps is one trillionth of a second.

The molecular movie falls under a category called time-resolved crystallography. This makes use of X-ray crystallography, which determines the molecular structures of crystals. This technology paves the towards how molecules work, how they react with drugs and related applications.

Molecular movies aren’t new. Some facilities can use X-rays to produce snapshots of molecules and other atomic-level particles. But many facilities can’t reveal details about the molecular processes.

The European XFEL facility can create molecular movies with more frames than ever before. The European XFEL, an international research facility, consists of an enormous underground superconducting linear accelerator. It houses a free-electron X-ray laser. The system generates ultrashort X-ray flashes at 27,000 times per second.

In the facility, there are various stations to conduct experiments and image the samples. For this experiment, researchers used the SPB/SFX instrument.

The system fires short bursts of X-ray light. A short laser pulse excites the crystalline proteins. The data is recorded by the detector in the system. The laser pulse destroys the crystal. Then, the process is repeated using new crystals. “The predefined delay is also altered so that different time points throughout the reaction can be explored,” according to the European XFEL. “Information illustrating the dynamics and structural changes occurring at a sequence of time points during the reaction can then be pieced together in a so-called molecular movie.”

Marius Schmidt, a professor from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee who led the study said: “The extremely short and bright X-ray pulses produced by the European XFEL give us the possibility to study the smallest details of biological processes. Imagine a movie of a downhill ski race made up of only three frames. This will tell you something about how the race began and finished, and give you an image of the skier as well as a glimpse of the landscape somewhere on the mountain, but not much else. A movie containing many more frames, however, would follow the race in detail and would be much more informative. Now that we understand how to harness the European XFEL X-ray pulses to collect large amounts of data to produce detailed molecular movies, we are very excited to see what unimagined insights are now possible.”

Leave a Reply

(Note: This name will be displayed publicly)