• time-resolved X-ray diffraction;
  • X-ray free-electron laser;
  • reaction dynamics;
  • ultrafast structural dynamics;
  • time-resolved electron diffraction

In recent years, the time-resolved X-ray diffraction technique has been established as an excellent tool for studying reaction dynamics and protein structural transitions with the aid of 100 ps X-ray pulses generated from third-generation synchrotrons. The forthcoming advent of the X-ray free-electron laser (XFEL) will bring a substantial improvement in pulse duration, photon flux and coherence of X-ray pulses, making time-resolved X-ray diffraction even more powerful. This technical breakthrough is envisioned to revolutionize the field of reaction dynamics associated with time-resolved diffraction methods. Examples of candidates for the first femtosecond X-ray diffraction experiments using highly coherent sub-100 fs pulses generated from XFELs are presented in this paper. They include the chemical reactions of small molecules in the gas and solution phases, solvation dynamics and protein structural transitions. In these potential experiments, ultrafast reaction dynamics and motions of coherent rovibrational wave packets will be monitored in real time. In addition, high photon flux and coherence of XFEL-generated X-ray pulses give the prospect of single-molecule diffraction experiments.