Abbey - Coherent X-ray science and materials characterisation

Our research combines elements of optics, nanofabrication, synchrotron science and X-ray Free Electron Lasers, to develop new approaches to imaging materials and structures at the atomic, molecular and cellular level. We develop techniques for interpreting patterns of coherently scattered light in order to investigate the structures of samples. The applications for our techniques vary over a wide range of time and length-scales and include both single molecule imaging and medical imaging for patient diagnoses and treatment.

Our inventions include new methods for imaging strain in three-dimensions as well as techniques for quantifying sub-cellular structural information using X-rays. Among our many international collaborators are Stanford University whom we are working with on femtosecond X-ray diffraction measurements and Oxford University with whom we are developing the next generation of materials characterisation techniques. We are currently focusing on applying our technologies to understanding disease and the immune system.

Research areas

X-ray Free Electron Laser Science (XFEL) and nanocrystallography

X-ray crystallography is routinely used to determine protein structures. However XFEL sources are creating new opportunities in this area by enabling structure determination from nanocrystals just a few unit cells across. Structure determination using XFELs is achieved by injecting randomly orientated nanocrystals into a reaction zone traversed by the femtosecond pulse. Orientations may be classified by examining Bragg spots and assembling them into a 3-dimensional diffraction volume.

Research within XFEL science involves both the development of new approaches to analysing and treating XFEL crystallography diffraction data and methods for delivering nanocrystals into the XFEL beam. Research in this area is being led by Dr Connie Darmanin who is an expert in protein crystallography.

The major outcomes of this work will be to permit structure retrieval from the smallest possible nanocrystals and to explore the fundamental physics of diffraction theory.

Molecular movies at pico and femtosecond timescales

The recent development of pump-probe and femtosecond time-delay experiments offer the possibility of studying biomolecular processes at high spatial and temporal scales so that "molecular movies" can be made at spatial resolutions approaching the atomic scale (Aquila et al., 2012). Our group will combine these new methodologies with advanced molecular modelling and data inversion techniques to gain unprecedented insights into protein dynamics, protein-protein interactions, structural and dynamic regulation of protein function. Combined with established stroboscopic techniques and emerging high-speed detector technology at the Australian Synchotron, this will allow studies of dynamics from millisecond to picosecond timescales.

This research ultimately aims to create 'molecular movies' of biomolecular interactions that will provide fundamental insights into protein function.

Nanofabrication of single molecule sensors and plasmonic devices

Characterisation of biomolecules as they undergo diffraction, the development of next- generation X-ray optics and the delivery of single cells and molecules in single-particle imaging experiments all require state-of-the-art nanofabrication techniques. Our group uses a range of techniques including focused ion beam (FIB), electron beam lithography (EBL), atomic force microscopy (AFM) and chemical vapour deposition (CVD) as part of its nanofabrication program.

We have a number of projects aimed at developing devices that can characterise single molecules and for the characterisation and injection of single particles into X-ray Free Electron Laser (XFEL) beams. Dr Eugeniu Balaur leads experimental work in this area and is an expert in a large range of nanofabrication techniques and theory.

Research in this area involves the fabrication of cutting edge devices for visualising single molecules and their dynamics.

Advanced optical microscopy techniques for bio-imaging

In addition to a range of X-ray techniques our group is actively involved in developing new optical microscopy methods for bioimaging; optical coherent diffraction techniques for high- resolution, phase sensitive, cellular microscopy. We are also developing new lab-based techniques for characterising the dynamics of single molecules and performing optical analogue experiments of X-ray Free Electron Laser Diffraction experiments.

This research will result in the development of new visible light microscopy techniques for super-resolution phase imaging and for studying the dynamics of molecules.

Meet the team

Group members

Abbey groupGroup leader

Dr Brian Abbey

Senior research fellows

Dr Connie Darmanin
Dr Eugeniu Balaur
Dr Nadia Zatsepin

Research fellows

Dr Daniel Wells

PhD students

Susannah Holmes
Hugh Marman
Viona Yokhana
Panji Achmani
Trey Guest
Jaydeep Patel


See a full list of publications on Google Scholar [external link], ResearchGate [external link], ResearcherID [external link] or view Dr Brian Abbey's profile.