NERSCPowering Scientific Discovery for 50 Years

X-ray Image Bank Open for Business

February 22, 2011

Filipe Maia is building a data bank where scientists from around the world can deposit and share images generated by coherent x-ray light sources. A post-doctoral researcher with the National Energy Research Scientific Computing Center (NERSC), Maia hopes the Coherent X-ray Imaging Data Bank, or CXIDB ( can help researchers make the most of their valuable data.

Scientists use light sources to shoot intense x-ray beams into molecules, such as proteins, in order to understand their shapes and structures. The resulting diffraction patterns are painstakingly reconstructed to deduce an image. "It kind of works like a microscope, but it has no lens," Maia says. He works on the analysis software that reassembles diffraction patterns into an image—a software lens, of sorts.

"Until now, very few groups have had access to this kind of data," says Maia. He hopes the data bank will "maximize the impact of imaging data by making it easy to distribute to the community." As a result,"researchers who may not have access to experiments can use it for testing new ideas, improving on an analysis or other things we can't imagine now," Maia explains.

To get the ball rolling, the NERSC Petascale Post-doc became the first depositor. He uploaded data from one of two papers he coauthored in the February 3, 2011 issue of the journal Nature. These first images involved the historic, direct x-ray imaging of a living organism, a virus, at the Linear Coherent Light Source (LCLS) at Stanford.

As the next generation of x-ray sources goes online, sharing data will become a necessity, says Maia. "Free electron laser facilities, like the LCLS, can produce up to 20 terabytes of data in one day, and the coming European XFEL (X-ray Free Electron Laser) is expected to do 500 times that," he says. "We're going to have to distribute the analysis of that much data to make it manageable, and this repository could be a key part of that process."

About NERSC and Berkeley Lab
The National Energy Research Scientific Computing Center (NERSC) is a U.S. Department of Energy Office of Science User Facility that serves as the primary high-performance computing center for scientific research sponsored by the Office of Science. Located at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, the NERSC Center serves almost 10,000 scientists at national laboratories and universities researching a wide range of problems in climate, fusion energy, materials science, physics, chemistry, computational biology, and other disciplines. Berkeley Lab is a DOE national laboratory located in Berkeley, California. It conducts unclassified scientific research and is managed by the University of California for the U.S. Department of Energy. »Learn more about computing sciences at Berkeley Lab.