Time-resolved single-crystal X-ray crystallography

Research output: Chapter or section in a book/report/conference proceedingChapter or section

1 Citation (SciVal)
125 Downloads (Pure)


In this chapter the development of time-resolved crystallography is traced from its beginnings more than 30 years ago. The importance of being able to “watch” chemical processes as they occur rather than just being limited to three-dimensional pictures of the reactant and final product is emphasised, and time-resolved crystallography provides the opportunity to bring the dimension of time into the crystallographic experiment. The technique has evolved in time with developments in technology: synchrotron radiation, cryoscopic techniques, tuneable lasers, increased computing power and vastly improved X-ray detectors. The shorter the lifetime of the species being studied, the more complex is the experiment. The chapter focusses on the results of solid-state reactions that are activated by light, since this process does not require the addition of a reagent to the crystalline material and the single-crystalline nature of the solid may be preserved. Because of this photoactivation, time-resolved crystallography is often described as “photocrystallography”. The initial photocrystallographic studies were carried out on molecular complexes that either underwent irreversible photoactivated processes where the conversion took hours or days. Structural snapshots were taken during the process. Materials that achieved a metastable state under photoactivation and the excited (metastable) state had a long enough lifetime for the data from the crystal to be collected and the structure solved. For systems with shorter lifetimes, the first time-resolved results were obtained for macromolecular structures, where pulsed lasers were used to pump up the short lifetime excited state species and their structures were probed by using synchronised X-ray pulses from a high-intensity source. Developments in molecular crystallography soon followed, initially with monochromatic X-ray radiation, and pump-probe techniques were used to establish the structures of photoactivated molecules with lifetimes in the micro- to millisecond range. For molecules with even shorter lifetimes in the sub-microsecond range, Laue diffraction methods (rather than using monochromatic radiation) were employed to speed up the data collections and reduce crystal damage. Future developments in time-resolved crystallography are likely to involve the use of XFELs to complete “single-shot” time-resolved diffraction studies that are already proving successful in the macromolecular crystallographic field.

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationStructure and Bonding
Subtitle of host publication21st Century Challenges in Chemical Crystallography I
EditorsD. M. P. Mingos, P. R. Raithby
Place of PublicationCham, Switzerland
Number of pages33
ISBN (Electronic)9783030647438
ISBN (Print)9783030647421
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 4 Oct 2020

Publication series

NameStructure and Bonding
ISSN (Print)0081-5993
ISSN (Electronic)1616-8550

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
PRR gratefully acknowledges the support of the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EP/K004956) and the Diamond Light Source for the provision of beamtime.

Publisher Copyright:
© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2020.

Copyright 2021 Elsevier B.V., All rights reserved.


  • Excited state lifetimes
  • Lasers
  • Macromolecules
  • Metastable states
  • Photochemistry
  • Photocrystallography
  • Solid-state
  • Synchrotron radiation
  • Time-resolved crystallography
  • X-rays
  • XFELs

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Spectroscopy
  • Physical and Theoretical Chemistry
  • Inorganic Chemistry


Dive into the research topics of 'Time-resolved single-crystal X-ray crystallography'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this