Single particle imaging at x-ray free electron lasers (XFELs) has the potential to determine the structure and dynamics of single biomolecules at room temperature. Two major hurdles have prevented this potential from being reached, namely, the collection of sufficient high-quality diffraction patterns and robust computational purification to overcome structural heterogeneity. We report the breaking of both of these barriers using gold nanoparticle test samples, recording around 10 million diffraction patterns at the European XFEL and structurally and orientationally sorting the patterns to obtain better than 3-nm-resolution 3D reconstructions for each of four samples. With these new developments, integrating advancements in x-ray sources, fast-framing detectors, efficient sample delivery, and data analysis algorithms, we illuminate the path towards sub-nanometer biomolecular imaging. The methods developed here can also be extended to characterize ensembles that are inherently diverse to obtain their full structural landscape.




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