Tables for
Volume F
Crystallography of biological macromolecules
Edited by E. Arnold, D. M. Himmel and M. G. Rossmann

International Tables for Crystallography (2012). Vol. F, ch. 6.1, p. 162   | 1 | 2 |

Section X-ray wavelength

U. W. Arndta

aLaboratory of Molecular Biology, Medical Research Council, Hills Road, Cambridge CB2 2QH, England X-ray wavelength

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For X-ray tube sources, the main component of the beam is the characteristic radiation of the tube target. The vast majority of macromolecular structure determinations have been carried out with copper Kα X-rays of wavelength 1.54 Å. These are reasonably well matched to the linear absorption coefficients of biological materials. Diffractometers and cameras are usually designed to permit data collection out to Bragg angles of about 30°, that is, to a minimum spacing of 1.54 Å, which is a convenient limit.

The next shortest, useful characteristic X-rays are, in practice, those from a molybdenum target (0.71 Å), but are rarely used in macromolecular crystallography.

The advantages of shorter wavelengths are a reduced absorption correction, smaller angles of incidence on the film, image plate or area detector, and, probably, a slightly smaller amount of radiation damage for a given intensity of the diffraction pattern. The disadvantage is a lower diffracted intensity, which is approximately proportional to the square of the wavelength. Crystal monochromators and specularly reflecting X-ray mirrors have a lower reflectivity for shorter wavelengths; most X-ray detectors, other than image plates and scintillation counters, are less efficient for harder X-rays (see Part 7[link] ).

At synchrotron beam lines where there is no shortage of X-ray intensity, it is now customary to select X-ray wavelengths of about 1 Å for routine data collection. Here, of course, it is possible to choose optimum wavelengths for anomalous-dispersion phasing experiments. This possibility is one of the major advantages of synchrotron radiation. The selection of a narrow wavelength band from the white radiation continuum (Bremsstrahlung) of an X-ray tube by means of crystal monochromators is not of practical importance: a tungsten-target X-ray tube operated at 80 kV produces about [1 \times 10^{-5}\ 8\;\hbox{keV}] photons per steradian per electron incident on the target within a wavelength band, [\delta \lambda /\lambda], of [10^{-3}]; a copper-target X-ray tube at 40 kV produces about [5 \times 10^{-4}\ K\alpha] photons per steradian per electron, that is, about 50 times more X-rays.

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