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. 166   | 1 | 2 |

Section Crystal monochromators

U. W. Arndta

aLaboratory of Molecular Biology, Medical Research Council, Hills Road, Cambridge CB2 2QH, England Crystal monochromators

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When the X-rays from the tube target are specularly reflected by a mirror, the spectrum is cut off for X-rays below the shortest wavelength for which the critical angle is equal to the smallest angle of incidence on the mirror. For a typical mirror designed for Cu Kα radiation, this cutoff wavelength might be about 0.75 Å, and the harder X-rays can be further attenuated by a β-filter. Of course, the more nearly monochromatic the radiation falling on the sample, the lower the radiation damage and the higher the spot-to-background ratio in the recorded patterns.

White radiation is almost completely eliminated by reflecting the primary X-ray beam using a natural or artificial (multilayer) crystal. The most commonly used type of plane monochromator for macromolecular crystallography is a single crystal of graphite. This material (HOPG, or highly ordered pyrolytic graphite) has a relatively large mosaic spread, typically about 0.4°, and it cannot separate the Kα doublet. This separation is essential in most small-molecule investigations, but is unnecessary for macromolecular crystals, which rarely diffract beyond 1.5 Å, and disadvantageous where a high intensity of the beam reflected by the monochromator is the main consideration.

The intensity of the diffraction pattern obtained with a graphite monochromator is only about two or three times lower than that resulting from a β-filtered pinhole-collimated beam. The situation is different at synchrotron beam lines, which must incorporate a monochromator in order to select the desired X-ray energy band. Curved focusing crystals collect X-rays over a relatively large horizontal angular range and thus produce a beam with a horizontal convergence angle of up to several milliradians. Much more nearly parallel beams are produced by reflection at several crystals in tandem, often in the form of monolithic channel-cut monochromators. In present-day storage rings, the power density at the first optical element is of the order of 10 W mm−2 at wiggler and undulator beam lines. This amount of power can be dissipated by careful design of water-cooling channels (Quintana & Hart, 1995[link]; van Silfhout, 1998[link]). In addition, the monochromator crystal, usually of silicon or germanium, may be profiled to minimize distortions as a result of thermal stresses.

The next generation of insertion devices will subject the optical elements to loads of several hundred W mm−2. Possible engineering solutions to the very severe heat-loading problem include the use of diamond crystals as reflecting elements. This material has a very high thermal conductivity, especially at low temperatures.


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