Xray Crystallography and the Fourier TransformWhen a monochomatic Xray diffracts off a crystal it performs part of a mathematical operation: the Fourier transform...
Tony Phillips
Introduction
Xray crystallography has been essential, since the beginning of the 20th century, to our understanding of matter; recently, as knowledge of the chemical composition of proteins has progressed, the determination of their 3dimensional structure has become indispensable for the correct interpretation of their functions. Our main access to this information is Xray crystallography. (Xrays are used because their wavelengths are on the order of interatomic distances in molecules, in the range 1100 Å ; one Å is $10^{10}$m). Mathematics enters into the process at two stages. The study of space groups tells what periodic configurations are possible in threespace; in fact these are often called "crystallographic groups" by mathematicians. The other connection, the subject of this column, is the surprising and pleasing fact that when a monochomatic Xray diffracts off a crystal it performs part of a mathematical operation: the Fourier transform (developed in the 19th century in completely different contexts); when the incidence angle is varied, the complete transform is produced. The flaw in this lovely picture is that we cannot measure all the details of the diffracted wave; otherwise the entire molecular structure could be calculated by inverting the Fourier transform. Fourier series: temperature distribution in a wireFourier series and the Fourier transform were invented as a method of data analysis. For example, let us follow JeanBaptiste Joseph Fourier (17681830) in studying the time evolution of the temperature distribution in a circular loop of circumference $a$, given an initial distribution of temperature $f(x), 0\leq x\leq a$; (we require $f(a)= f(0)$). We start by calculating what are now known as the Fourier coefficients of $f$: $$a_0 = \frac{1}{a}\int_0^af(x)~dx,$$ $$a_h = \frac{2}{a}\int_0^af(x)\cos~ \frac{2\pi h}{a}x~dx,$$ $$b_h = \frac{2}{a}\int_0^af(x)\sin~ \frac{2\pi h}{a}x~dx.$$ It can be proved, if $f$ is sufficiently wellbehaved, that the linear combination $$a_0 +\sum_{h=1}^{\infty}a_h\cos~ \frac{2\pi h}{a}x + \sum_{h=1}^{\infty}b_h\sin~ \frac{2\pi h}{a}x$$ (the Fourier series of $f$; when $a=2\pi$ these formulas simplify pleasantly) converges everywhere to $f(x)$. (Taken as an initial distribution separately, each of the $\cos~ \frac{2\pi h}{a}x$ and $\sin~ \frac{2\pi h}{a}x$ functions determines a simple solution, as does a constant function; the linearity of the heat equation allows these separate solutions to be combined, with coefficients $a_h$ and $b_h$, to give the complete solution to the problem.) It is useful to simplify the formulas by using Euler's identities $\cos~ t = \frac{1}{2}(e^{it} + e^{it})$, $\sin~ t = \frac{1}{2i}(e^{it}  e^{it})$ and grouping terms to yield $$f(x) = \sum_{h=\infty}^{\infty}c_h e^{i\frac{2\pi h}{a}x}$$ and $$c_h = \frac{1}{a}\int_0^a f(x)~e^{i\frac{2\pi h}{a}x}~dx;$$ in general, the $c_h$ are complex numbers. Electron density distribution in a crystalThe dual operations of integration: $f(x)~\rightarrow~ \{c_h\}$ and summation: $\{c_h\}~\rightarrow~f(x)$ can be realized in other contexts. In this column we will consider the function $\rho(x,y,z)$ that gives the electron density distribution in the crystalline state of some compound. Suppose, for simplicity, that the unit building block, corresponding to a molecule of the compound, is a rectangular solid; say with edgelengths $a, b$ and $c$; these $a$ by $b$ by $c$ solids are stacked in threespace so as to give a structure repeating every $a$ units in the $x$direction, every $b$ units in the $y$ and every $c$ units in the $z$. Then the function $\rho(x,y,z)$ will be triply periodic, with periods $a, b$ and $c$, and consequently can be represented as a triple Fourier series $$\rho(x,y,z) = \sum_{h=\infty}^{\infty} \sum_{k=\infty}^{\infty} \sum_{l=\infty}^{\infty} c_{hkl}e^{i(\frac{2\pi h}{a}x + \frac{2\pi k}{b}y +\frac{2\pi l}{c}z)},$$ where $$c_{hkl}=\frac{1}{abc}\int_0^a\int_0^b\int_0^c \rho(x,y,z)e^{i(\frac{2\pi h}{a}x + \frac{2\pi k}{b}y +\frac{2\pi l}{c}z)} ~dx~dy~dz,$$ directly generalizing our formulas for the circle. If the coefficients $c_{hkl}$ are known, the electron density distribution can be calculated, and then the structure of the molecule can be determined. It is therefore remarkable that the diffraction patterns formed when the crystal is bombarded with Xrays contain precious information about the $c_{hkl}$. Roughly speaking, we can imagine the complex numbers $c_{hkl}$ placed at the vertices $(h,k,l)$ of a 3dimensional lattice; each Xray diffraction pattern projects this lattice onto the plane of the image plate. If we label by $p_{\Theta}$ the projection produced by a beam meeting the crystal at a generalized angle $\Theta$, a vertex $(h,k,l)$ which is good position with respect to $\Theta$ (this condition also depends on the wavelength $\lambda$ of the radiation) will appear on the plate as a spot at location $p_{\Theta}(h,k,l)$ and of intensity proportional to the square of the absolute value $c_{hkl}$. Varying $\Theta$ will bring a new set of vertices into good position; eventually the lattice can be reconstructed, along with the absolute value of the coefficients at the vertices.
The reciprocal latticeXrays interact with a crystal through interaction with parallel families of planes. Suppose as before that the unit cell in the crystal is an $a\times b\times c$ rectangular parallelipiped (when $a,b$ and $c$ are all different, this structure is called orthorhombic). Every triple $(h,k,l)$ of integers defines a family of planes through the crystal, defined by the equation $$\frac{xh}{a}+ \frac{yk}{b}+\frac{zl}{c} = n ~~~~ (n \mbox{ an integer}).$$ Let us change coordinates to $X = \frac{x}{a}$, $Y=\frac{y}{b}$, $Z=\frac{z}{c}$. (We are now in the reciprocal lattice; for a nonrectangular crystal the change of coordinates is only slightly more complicated). Then the equation defining the planes becomes $$Xh+Yk+Zl=n,$$ for $n$ an integer. For each $(h,k,l)$ this family of parallel planes fills up the crystal, in the sense that each unit cell vertex lies in (exactly) one of them, as is easy to check. We call these the lattice planes. Graphically, it is easier to represent the analogous concept in two dimensions, so we suppress $z$ and $l$ for the moment. Our crystal is then an array of $a\times b$ rectangles; in the $(X,Y)$ coordinates these measure $1\times 1$. The pair $(0,1)$ gives the lines $Y = n$, for $n$ an integer. These lines are parallel to the $X$axis, and slice through the base of each unit cell. On the other hand, $(1,1)$ gives the lines $X + Y = n$, or $Y = n X$, $(2,1)$ gives $Y = n + 2X$, and $(2,3)$ gives $Y = n/3 + (2/3)X$. (See image).
Xray diffraction: how a monochromatic plane wave performs Fourier analysis on the electron density distribution.
Cowtan's simulation leads to the approximate Fourier synthesis of the target from just the seven largest structure factors: those corresponding to $(h,k) = (0,1), (1,0), (1,2), (2,1), (1,2), (3,2), (3,1)$. Here is how the synthesis proceeds, step by step, each time adding in the next structure factor. These images are from his tutorial, and are used with permission. The unit cell (not orthorhombic!) is outlined in dots.
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Tony Phillips 
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