Femtoseconds, Beamtimes & Molecular Cinema

How I got there

My latest sociologically and partially STS-driven research project focuses on potentially paradigm-shifting experiments in something which is difficult to cluster disciplinary-wise, but the main two research streams that intersect in the experiments that I follow are photonics (x-ray laser) and molecular biophysics. I am exploring temporalities and now even visualisation in large-scale experiments use various innovative methods that aim to map molecular behaviour and especially molecular unfolding (a particular blindspot in structural biology). The very methods used for disclosing molecular behaviour are serial femtosecond crystallography and single particle imaging. The former one has already brought some substantive contributions whereas the latter one, arguably more revolutionary, is now subject to number of experimental trials (stopped by Covid). Initially, I was interested in the politics of beamtime – i.e. how experimental time is used and gained (see also iconic account by Sharon Traweek from 1988). However, during my research, and when I’ve begun to penetrate into the mysteries of experiments with extremely intense x-ray flashes that map atomic details of molecular dynamics I have realised that that two specific aspects that are related to something that I call “productive speed” (in contrast to well-established critique of speed in the social scientific discourse) are worth exploring further: femtosecond pulse and 3D molecular cinema.

TBC