Ultrafast Structural and Electron Dynamics in Soft Matter Exposed to Intense X-ray Pulses

  • Date:
  • Location: Polhemssalen, Lägerhyddsvägen 1, Uppsala
  • Doctoral student: Jönsson, Olof
  • About the dissertation
  • Organiser: Molekyl- och kondenserade materiens fysik
  • Contact person: Jönsson, Olof
  • Disputation

Investigations of soft matter using ultrashort high intensity pulses have been made possible through the advent of X-ray free-electrons lasers. The last decade has seen the development of a new type of protein crystallography where femtosecond dynamics can be studied, and single particle imaging with atomic resolution is on the horizon. The pulses are so intense that any sample quickly turns into a plasma. This thesis studies the ultrafast transition from soft matter to warm dense matter, and the implications for structural determination of proteins.                   

We use non-thermal plasma simulations to predict ultrafast structural and electron dynamics. Changes in atomic form factors due to the electronic state, and displacement as a function of temperature, are used to predict Bragg signal intensity in protein nanocrystals. The damage processes started by the pulse will gate the diffracted signal within the pulse duration, suggesting that long pulses are useful to study protein structure. This illustrates diffraction-before-destruction in crystallography.

The effect from a varying temporal photon distribution within a pulse is also investigated. A well-defined initial front determines the quality of the diffracted signal. At lower intensities, the temporal shape of the X-ray pulse will affect the overall signal strength; at high intensities the signal level will be strongly dependent on the resolution.

Water is routinely used to deliver biological samples into the X-ray beam. Structural dynamics in water exposed to intense X-rays were investigated with simulations and experiments. Using pulses of different duration, we found that non-thermal heating will affect the water structure on a time scale longer than 25 fs but shorter than 75 fs. Modeling suggests that a loss of long-range coordination of the solvation shells accounts for the observed decrease in scattering signal.

The feasibility of using X-ray emission from plasma as an indicator for hits in serial diffraction experiments is studied. Specific line emission from sulfur at high X-ray energies is suitable for distinguishing spectral features from proteins, compared to emission from delivery liquids. We find that plasma emission continues long after the femtosecond pulse has ended, suggesting that spectrum-during-destruction could reveal information complementary to diffraction.