Otto Hahn Medal for Marie Luise Grünbein

Award from the Max Planck Society for outstanding doctoral research

May 17, 2022

Dr. Marie Luise Grünbein earned her PhD in the department of Biomolecular Mechanisms under the guidance of Dr. Bruce Doak and Dr. Ilme Schlichting, while she was a member of the FEL group there. She receives this award for fundamental insights into the possibilities and limitations of structural biology using X-ray lasers.

An X-ray free-electron laser (XFEL) delivers extraordinarily intense X-ray pulses of femtosecond duration, offering unique advantages for determining crystal structures and for following molecular reactions. Demand for use of such lasers far exceeds the available measuring time. To help break this logjam, the latest generation of XFELs supplies pulses faster than ever before, with peak pulse repetition rates of up to 4,5 MHz compared to the previous maximum of 120 Hz. In principle, this can dramatically reduce the time per measurement and so accommodate more users. Marie Grünbein demonstrated that while data collection is possible at 1.1 MHz pulse rate, it is not at 4.5 MHz, since pressure waves resulting from the absorption of the X-ray pulses damage the sample and thus can lead to measurement artefacts at overly rapid XFEL pulse rates. Marie Grünbein demonstrated fundamental errors in highly cited scientific publications dealing with real-time spatial imaging of light-sensitive proteins (a crucial application of XFELs) and developed vital experimental protocols that enable valid mechanistic interpretation. Her analyses will greatly influence future XFEL experiments. 


"I am very honored by the award for my PhD thesis. FEL experiments are highly complex and all steps – from the preparation of sensitive biological samples and the custom-built experimental setup in the vacuum chamber to the acquisition and analysis of large amounts of data in a very short time – require experts from different backgrounds. The close collaboration of the interdisciplinary FEL team at the MPI was key to the success of our experiments, and I am extremely grateful for the extensive support and the superb team spirit.”

The Otto Hahn Medals will be presented at the Max Planck Society's Annual General Meeting in June.

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