My Own Private Synchrotron

Tired of waiting months for beamline time? Here's a possible solution.

Jeffrey M. Perkel
May 1, 2006

Michael Rossmann is a veteran virus crystallographer, with a standard X-ray tube right down the hall from his lab at Purdue University. But when he needs to perform ab initio structure determination - which requires tunable X-rays many orders of magnitude brighter than his standard Purdue X-ray tube - he and his colleagues pile into the car with some toiletries, a change of clothes, and a dewar full of frozen protein crystals for the 120-mile drive across the Indiana state line to the Advanced Photon Source (APS) at Argonne National Laboratories, just outside Chicago. APS is one of the country's premier synchrotron facilities.

He can't just show up, however; the APS, like all synchrotrons, has a queue, and anyone wanting time must submit a proposal. There are 21 synchrotrons worldwide engaged in protein crystallography; six are in the United States. According to David Moncton, director of the nuclear reactor laboratory...