A new hybrid pixel detector for cryo-electron microscopy

In the Nano Argovia project HPDET-EM, electron microscopy experts from the University of Basel and the Paul Scherrer Institute, led by Professor Timm Maier (Biozentrum, University of Basel), are collaborating with the team of Dr. Sacha de Carlo from DECTRIS AG (Baden-Dättwil) to install and test a new hybrid pixel detector. The new device will be very specific to the particularities of cryo-electron microscopy (cryo-EM), continuing the success story of cryo-EM in the life sciences.

Three-dimensional structure
Cryo-electron microscopy has evolved tremendously in recent years. New methods of data processing and improved electron detection cameras have led to the identification of individual amino acids. With the help of data from cryo-EM analyses, it is now possible to determine the three-dimensional structure of proteins. This is necessary, for example, to understand life processes and the development of diseases, or to develop new drugs.

In contrast to X-ray crystallography, which is still mainly used to identify the spatial protein structure, cryo-EM analysis does not require crystallization of the protein. Thanks to the Nobel-Prize-winning cryo-EM method developed by Swiss professor Dr. Jacques Dubochet, the sample is shock-frozen, causing water to solidify into amorphous ice at lightning speed. The sample is then analyzed from different directions, and computer programs calculate the three-dimensional electron density. This then leads to the identification of the spatial structure. The disadvantages of cryo-EM are the high cost of modern electron microscopes and detectors as well as the time required for the analyses.

“We think that our collaboration aiming at the integration of this promising detector technology into your life sciences cryo-EM workflows as well as your established network within the life sciences and EM community will help DECTRIS reach this important new market segment.”

Dr. Sacha de Carlo, Global Sales Manager EM at Dectris

Better for cryo-EM
Scientists in the Nano Argovia HPDET-EM project are now testing a hybrid-pixel detector that better meets the requirements of cryo-electron microscopy than models used for synchrotron and X-ray analyses. DECTRIS, the world leader in hybrid pixel detectors, is collaborating with University of Basel specialists Professor Timm Maier and Dr. Mohamed Chami as well as Professor Michael Steinmetz of the Paul Scherrer Institute.

In hybrid pixel detectors, a semiconductor sensor and the readout chip are optimized and fabricated independently and then electrically coupled. In the process, individual modules are strung together.

The researchers are now installing and testing a new hybrid pixel detector developed by DECTRIS that has high readout speed and sensitivity. They are developing the necessary protocols for operation and analysis in conjunction with cryo-EM to further advance the technology for application in the life sciences.

Additional information

Paul Scherrer Institute
Biozentrum University of Basel