Crystal Structure Determination by 3D ED / MicroED - From Materials, Peptides to Proteins


X-Ray Diffraction (XRD) has been an indispensable tool in structural chemistry, structural biology and material science. Despite the evolution in laboratory X-ray and synchrotron sources that have occurred in the last decade, a significant roadblock in the determination of molecular structures is the ability to grow crystals of sufficient size and quality which can be time-consuming, complicated, requires a large amount of purified molecules, or even unfeasible for many biological macromolecules and pharmaceutical compounds. Three-Dimensional electron diffraction (3D ED), also known as Micro-crystal electron diffraction (MicroED), is an emerging and game-changing technique with the potential to overcome these challenges as it allows structure determination of crystals 1 billionth the size of those used for SCXRD.

Since 2007, 3D ED has allowed structure determination of landmark samples, mostly inorganic, that were considered impracticable for X-ray methods. Researchers from several labs have developed different experimental set-ups for data acquisitions, for example automated diffraction tomography (ADT, University of Mainz) and rotation electron diffraction (RED, Stockholm University). In 2013, Gonen’s lab successfully developed the MicroED technique for the determination of macromolecular crystal structures. However, 3D ED/MicroED is still in its infancy. Further development is required in order to unleash the full potential of 3D ED/MicroED applications in materials science, structural chemistry and structural biology.

In this talk, I would like to present our latest development in specimen preparation, data collection and processing protocol, examples of crystal structure determination by MicroED, ongoing method developments and future perspective of 3D ED/MicroED.


After completing a Bachelor of Engineering (Mechatronics) degree at the University of Queensland, Hongyi went on to pursue a PhD degree in materials engineering, specialized in electron microscopy and semiconductor nano-materials. The Australian Government sponsored his PhD study through the Australian Postgraduate Award program. He obtained his PhD degree at UQ in Dec 2013, and received the Dean’s accommodation for academic excellence as well as the best thesis of the year award from the School of Mechanical and Mining Engineering. In Feb. 2014, Hongyi started his postdoc fellowship (Wenner-Gren Foundation postdoc award) in Prof. Xiaodong Zou’s group at Stockholm University. In 2015, he initiated the development of MicroED (3D electron diffraction technique for studying biomolecules) at Zou’s group. Hongyi became a principle investigator in 2018 to further develop and apply electron crystallography methods for studying structures of small molecules and macromolecules. He received a starting grant from the Swedish Research Council (Equivalent to ARC DECRA). Recently, Hongyi and colleagues solved the first new protein structure using MicroED. They also shown that it is possible to reveal protein inhibitor binding by MicroED. He is now working as a researcher/principle investigator at Stockholm University.

In 2023, as a main CI, Hongyi and colleagues received an ARC LIEF grant to set up a MicroED facility at UQ. He is currently employed as a part-time senior lecturer at UQ (0.5 FTE).

Updated:  5 July 2023/Responsible Officer:  Science web/Page Contact:  Science web