The University of Southampton

X-Ray source which can simultaneously detect spectral and spatial variations could have huge benefits for medical research

Published: 5 February 2007

A pioneering technique which for the first time allows simultaneous detection of both the spectral and spatial variation of an X-ray beam has been developed by researchers at the University of Southampton.

This novel technology developed jointly by researchers from the University’s School of Physics and Astronomy, Optoelectronics Research Centre, and School of Chemistry is reported in the current advance online publication of Nature Physics (4 Feb 2007).

The research team used ultrafast lasers to produce soft X-rays using a technique called high harmonic generation. With this new technique they can see the position of each wavelength in the beam from a single image of the beam diffracted from a metal grid. The ability to monitor the X-ray spectrum at each point in the beam’s profile simultaneously has not previously been achieved.

Using this technology, the team is now developing X-ray scattering experiments which will measure the shape of single protein molecules. This shape information is critical in the search for understanding of exactly how proteins work.

‘In the long term, this technology could create huge benefits for the medical sector,’ explains research member Dr Bill Brocklesby of the University’s Optoelectronics Research Centre. ‘Measuring the shape of single protein molecules will allow for advances in understanding of several fatal diseases which are caused when the shaping of proteins has gone wrong. CJD is an example of one of the many diseases which are believed to be based on the shape of proteins.

‘We are fortunate to have the range of disciplines across physics, lasers technology and chemistry here at Southampton to make this collaborative work possible. ‘

The work is supported by Research Councils UK through the Basic Technology programme, an initiative that provides a platform for researchers to develop new technologies which will enable pushing forward the boundaries of science.


Notes for editors

The University of Southampton is a leading UK teaching and research institution with a global reputation for leading-edge research and scholarship. It is one of the UK’s top 10 research universities, offering first-rate opportunities and facilities for study and research across a wide range of subjects in humanities, health, science and engineering. The University has around 20,000 students and over 5000 staff. Its annual turnover is in the region of £310 million.

The University is one of the country’s top institutions for engineering, computer science and medicine, and has a strong enterprise agenda. It is home to a range of world-leading research centres, including the National Oceanography Centre, Southampton, the Institute of Sound and Vibration Research, the Optoelectronics Research Centre, the Centre for the Developmental Origins of Health and Disease, and the Mountbatten Centre for International Studies.

For further information contact: Dr Jeremy Frey (Principal Investigator), School of Chemistry, University of Southampton 023 8059 3209,

Dr Bill Brocklesby, Optoelectronics Research Centre, University of Southampton, 023 8059 2042,

Sarah Watts, Media Relations, University of Southampton, 023 8059 3807,

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