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In order to exploit the femtosecond pulse duration of X-ray Free-Electron Lasers (XFEL) operating in the hard X-ray regime for ultrafast time-resolved protein crystallography experiments, critical parameters that determine the crystallographic signal-to-noise (I/σI) must be addressed. For single-crystal studies under low absorbed dose conditions, it has been shown that the intrinsic pulse intensity stability as well as mode structure and jitter of this structure, significantly affect the crystallographic signal-to-noise. Here, geometrical parameters are theoretically explored for a three-beam scheme: X-ray probe, optical pump, X-ray probe (or “probe-pump-probe”) which will allow experimental determination of the photo-induced structure factor amplitude differences, ΔF, in a ratiometric manner, thereby internally referencing the intensity noise of the XFEL source. In addition to a non-collinear split-beam geometry which separates un-pumped and pumped diffraction patterns on an area detector, applying an additional convergence angle to both beams by focusing leads to integration over mosaic blocks in the case of well-ordered stationary protein crystals. Ray-tracing X-ray diffraction simulations are performed for an example using photoactive yellow protein crystals in order to explore the geometrical design parameters which would be needed. The specifications for an X-ray split and delay instrument that implements both an offset angle and focused beams are discussed, for implementation of a probe-pump-probe scheme at the European XFEL. We discuss possible extension of single crystal studies to serial femtosecond crystallography, particularly in view of the expected X-ray damage and ablation due to the first probe pulse.


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