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COMOTION Report Summary

Project ID: 614507
Funded under: FP7-IDEAS-ERC
Country: Germany

Periodic Report Summary 2 - COMOTION (Controlling the Motion of Complex Molecules and Particles)

COMOTION enables novel experiments that investigate the intrinsic properties of large molecules and nanoparticles, including biological samples like proteins, viruses, and small cells, in unprecendented detail.
Recent advances in x-ray free-electron lasers have enabled the observation of near-atomic-resolution structures in diffraction-before-destruction experiments, for instance, of isolated mimiviruses and of proteins from microscopic crystals. The goal to record molecular movies with spatial and temporal atomic-resolution (femtoseconds and picometers) on individual molecules is near. Furthermore, the investigation of ultrafast, sub-femtosecond electron dynamics in small molecules is providing first results. Its extension to large molecules promises the unraveling of charge migration and energy transport in complex (bio)molecular systems. Novel matter-wave experiments with large molecules are testing the limits of quantum mechanics, particle-wave duality, and coherence. Extending these metrology experiments to larger systems will widen our understanding of the underlying physics whilst also allowing the precise measurement of molecular properties.
The principal obstacle for these and similar experiments across the molecular sciences is the controlled production of identical samples of individual molecules in the gas phase. Within the COMOTION project we will overcome these shortcommings and focus our research efforts on four key areas.
- Vaporization - we develop novel methods to vaporize large molecules and particles, ranging from amino acids to proteins, viruses, nano-objects, and small cells and efficiently inject them into vacuum
- Cooling - technologies are implemented that rapidly cool molecules and particles to cryogenic temperatures, thereby shock-freezing molecular motion and preserving the active state of biological samples
- Control - new schemes are develop to control and manipulate the motion of these complex systems using combinations of external electric and electromagnetic fields. We spatially control molecular motion (particle trapping) and also separate molecules according to size, shape, and isomer.
- Imaging - diffractive imaging experiments using x-ray free electron lasers, such as the European XFEL, or ultrafast electron sources will allow the recording of atomic-resolution molecular movies.

In the first half of the project we have now successfully implemented and benchmarked methods to vaporize, cool, and inject biological nanoparticles into the imaging experiments and we have implemented optical superresolution imaging as well as optical control methodologies to improve the imaging efficiency and resolution. Furthermore, we have performed numerous benchmark experiments at x-ray facilities to demonstrate the performance of our novel techniques, to obtain novel results on the imaging of biological nanoparticles, and to provide feedback to the injection and control experiments regarding further envisioned improvements. Based on these successful and strong basis we will now merge these novel technologies for the preparation of unique strongly controlled biomolecular nanoparticles to propel the envisioned groundbreaking single-particle imaging experiments into reality and to create molecular movies and new understanding of biological systems at work.

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