Location: CSB Homepage >MX Core >Services

Macromolecular X-Ray Crystallography Core Facility (MX)
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MX Director:
Michael Miley, Ph.D.
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Medical Research Building B
CB# 7365
tel: +1-919-843-7174


The facility offers a full range of crystallography services. Outlined below are our standardized services. In addition to these, the MX facility is able to accommodate many other types of crystallographic experiments. These are typically unique to each project and will be billed as close as possible to actual costs (non-profit, as we are a recharge center); this will include all consumables and staff time required. Contact the Director for more information.

We also allow and encourage users with prior experience to use the facilities autonomously. To do so, users must undergo training and/or be certified as an independent operator by our staff. Training time typically varies with each user and activity.

Our primary mission is to provide services to UNC users, but we also offer our services to external users including non-UNC academic users and commercial companies

Crystallization Services

For all crystallization services a highly pure, monodisperse sample (protein, nucleic acid, complexes) is required. The facility provides all the other necessary components and tools to conduct the experiments.  The Protein Expression and Purification Core is co-localized in the same building and can assist you in generating a crystallography grade sample.

High Throughput Automated Crystallization Screening and Monitoring

High-Throughput (HT) crystallization trials in a multi-sitting drop 96 well format setup with a Phoenix liquid handler

  • High-Throughput (HT) crystallization trials in a multi-sitting drop 96 well tray format setup with a Rigaku Phoenix liquid handler

  • Use as little as 100nl of sample per trial

  • 1 drop per well - 30µl of sample for first 96 trials (100nl/trial), 15µl for each additional 96 trials

  • 3 drops per well– 75ul of sample for 1st plate, 50ul each additional plate. 2:1, 1:1, 1:2 protein to well ratios for the 3 drops

  • Each set of experiments (one 96 well tray) takes about ~10minutes to set up

  • Automated imaging and storage over 1 month at 4°C and/or 20°C

  • 24/7 remote access to images via Crystaltrak web, allowing users to score experiments and design optimization screens from promising conditions.

  • Fee – Phoenix crystal screening rate

Customized Crystallization Screen Design and Generation

  • Design and generate custom crystallization screens in a 96 deep well block format that are compatible with our Phoenix liquid handler; enabling additional HT crystallization screening

  • Our Alchemist II liquid handling robot will generate the screen within 0.5-2 hours

  • Fee – Alchemist generated screen rate

Custom Crystallization Screening and Optimization

  • Set up crystallization trials and optimizations in hanging drop 24 well format

  • Our Alchemist II liquid handling robot will automatically fill a pre-greased 24 well linbro crystallization plate with a custom crystallization screen of your design

  • Crystallization trials are set up manually, so there is lots of flexibility in the experiment. Up to 5 drops per well can be easily accommodated

  • Fee – 24 well crystallization plate rate

Crystal Growth Optimization

Temperature plays a very large role in sample crystallization. Our facility is equipped with numerous incubators to provide users with a lot of experimental options for optimizing crystal growth

  • A walk in 4 Celsius room that is equipped with a Leica Stereo microscope and small work area

  • 3 full sized temperature controlled incubators set permanently at 20, 16, and 12  Celsius.

  • A half sized incubator that is meant for users who wish to freely experiment with temperature

  • No Fee to use

Dynamic Light Scattering

We have a 384 well plate based Wyatt DLS instrument that is available to assess the polydispersity of your protein sample. A value of 15% is considered excellent for crystallization.

  • No Fee to use

UV Fluorescence and White Light Imaging of Crystallization Drops

We have a Jansi UVEX microscope that will provide UV fluorescent imaging of a crystallization experiment. It can readily distinguish between protein and salt crystals. It is equipped with a high end camera so you can acquire high quality digital images.

The lab is also equipped with a top of the line Leica stereo microscope with a high end digital camera. This is great for acquiring high quality digital pictures of your crystals. The camera also provides 30fps video which is very helpful as a training tool when teaching users how to loop and mount crystals.

Diffraction Services

For all diffraction services only protein crystals are required, the facility provides all the other necessary components and tools to conduct the experiments.

Automated X-Ray Diffraction Screening

  • Optimized for rapid and autonomous screening of small crystals at -180C, typical exposure time of 10sec per frame

  • Utilizes ALS style “pucks” that hold 16 samples each. ACTOR dewar holds 5 pucks, allowing for the unattended screening of 80 crystals at a time

  • ~4hours to screen 5 fully loaded pucks

  • Pucks are compatible with SER-CAT synchrotron beamlines (see below) and many other beamlines around the globe

  • Fee – ACTOR Beamline rate


Manual X-Ray Diffraction

  • Room temperature screening of crystals to establish a diffraction baseline; greatly helps when working out cryopreservation conditions for your crystals.

  • Data collection at room temperature to -180°C

  • Optimized for crystals with large unit cell dimensions, Raxis IV++ detector & HR optics

  • Manual operation for crystal mounting and centering

  • Typical exposure times per frame is 2-4 minutes

  • Fee – RAXIS IV++ Beamline rate


General Crystallography Laboratory Use

  • The Crystallography lab is fully equipped to facilitate all manners of crystal examination, manipulation, cryo-preservation and storage. 

  • Fee – Crystallography Lab Usage.

Note: Users are not charged for use if only examining their crystals with our microscopes or for storage of crystals in our dewars.

Computer Resources

  • The core facility has its own computer server and workstations that provides users with space to work and well as access to all the latest programs to facilitate data processing and structure determination. Please contact the Director about getting an account setup.

Synchrotron Access

  • UNC is part of SER-CAT, which affords UNC 288 hours of synchrotron  beamtime split evenly between 2 beamlines (22-ID and 22-BM). This facility coordinates usage of this beamtime. Schedule is available on the SER-CAT website.  Contact the Director for more information about access to beamtime.

Training, Expertise and Consultation

Highly trained scientists in the CSB are available to

  • provide expert training and mentoring to users

  • help design and implement crystallographic strategies in a project-specific manner

  • provide assistance with data analysis and interpretation

  • independently carry out crystallography projects on the user’s behalf

  • participate in grant writing and preparations of figures for publication and presentation

  • Fee – Staff time rates




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