Proteins are nature's machines, performing tasks from transforming sunlight into useable energy to binding oxygen for transport through the body. These functions depend on the structural arrangement of atoms within the protein, which was, until recently, only possible to measure statically, in easily crystallized samples via conventional X-ray diffraction. Many physiologically important proteins, especially proteins imbedded in the cell membrane, are notoriously difficult to grow into the large, uniform protein crystals required by this method. In the past decade, X-ray Free Electron Lasers (XFELs), a new type of X-ray source, have begun to come online. Using ultra-bright, ultrafast X-ray pulses of the Linac Coherent Light Source (LCLS) at the SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory, this technology allows us to measure not only static pictures of protein structure but to record "molecular movies" of proteins in action, even for proteins that only produce small crystals. Once a reaction is triggered, X-ray pulses record "frames" as the protein's structure evolves.

Speaker Bios

Dr. Megan Shelby

Megan Shelby received a B.S. in Chemical Biology from the College of Chemistry at the University of California Berkeley in 2008. Subsequently, she performed research in Lawrence Berkeley National Lab’s Physical Biosciences Division for two years where she studied photosynthetic proteins with X-ray spectroscopy. She received a Ph. D. in Physical Chemistry in 2016 from Northwestern University, focusing on measuring porphyrin and hemoprotein dynamics using time-resolved X-ray Absorption Spectroscopy. After the completion of her graduate work, Megan joined the Biosciences and Biotechnology Division at LLNL as a Postdoctoral fellow. She is developing new methods for fixed-target serial femtosecond crystallography at XFELs to investigate membrane protein structure.

Dr. Matthias Frank

Matthias Frank is a senior staff scientist in the Physical & Life Sciences Directorate at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory and an Adjunct Professor in the Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Medicine at the University of California, Davis. Dr. Frank received his Ph.D. in physics from the Max-Planck-Institute for Physics and the Technical University of Munich in 1993 and joined LLNL as a postdoctoral fellow in 1994. He is currently working on technologies for high-resolution, dynamical imaging of biomolecules and biological nanoparticles with x-ray free-electron lasers, such as the Linac Coherent Light Source at SLAC. He is also working on instrumentation and methods for the analysis of aerosol particles, single cells, trace gases and exhaled breath for applications in homeland security and biomedicine. Dr. Frank has authored and co-authored over 140 articles published in scientific journals and books.

Erin McKay

Erin M. McKay is a Biology teacher at Tracy High School in Tracy, CA. She received her BS in Biology with an emphasis in Plant biology in 2001 and her Science teaching credential in 2002 from University of California Davis.  While attending UC Davis she interned at a small startup, AgraQuest, in their microbiology department. After finishing her education, she began teaching at Tracy high in 2002, and began participating in Lawrence Livermore National Lab's Teacher Research Academy. As of the summer of 2011, she and three other west coast teachers began collaborating with Rutgers University's Waksman Institute's student scholar program.  This program trains teachers and students how to do genuine Molecular Biology research in the classroom.  In the summer of 2012, Erin helped organize and instruct the student scholar program at Lawrence Livermore Lab's Teacher Research Academy.