What knowledge is needed to characterize function of a biomolecule, molecular material or a chemical reaction mechanism? Structure has long been considered to be the key information and several powerful techniques like X-ray crystallography and multidimensional NMR have been developed, following the notion that seeing is believing, to provide equilibrium (static) structures of molecules. At the same time function of a molecular system implies change of structure and in order to characterize and understand how a biomolecule or material works it is necessary to know how and why the structural changes occur. The How is related to finding out precisely which structural changes occur, which atoms are involved, how are they affected, which bonds are broken, how does energy and charge flow through the molecule, and what are the temporal characteristics of the changes. The Why is associated to energetics and interactions what is the energy landscape that connects reactants, intermediates and products and how do molecules interact with each other and with their environment? Structural and dynamical information is today generally obtained in separate experiments static structures from X-ray crystallography, cryo-electron microscopy and multidimensional NMR, while molecular time scale dynamics are obtained from e.g. ultrafast laser spectroscopy. Dynamics from such experiments does not provide direct information on structural changes, but has to be inferred from often sophisticated analysis of spectroscopic data. Thus, there is a great need for experiments that can provide direct information on structural changes occurring on the molecular time scale of picoseconds and femtoseconds. The goal of this project is to develop a table-top experimental setup for sub-ps X-ray spectroscopy to obtain molecular time scale geometrical and electronic structural information of chemical and biological processes for deeper insights into molecular reaction mechanisms.
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