Name - particle picking utility (This page is still under construction)


This page will focus almost exclusively on the Gauss mode of the e2boxer tool which includes both automatic particle picking and CTF estimation in both GUI and command-line mode. The Gauss mode in e2boxer is intended to replace the functionalities in sxboxer which will soon become obsolete. For additional information on the e2boxer tool, see EMAN2's e2boxer help page. encapsulates several functionalities

1. Interactive particle picking using GUI

2. Automated particle picking using Gauss convolution method via GUI

3. Command-line (batch) automated particle picking (no GUI) using Gauss convolution method:

4. CTF estimation, in GUI mode (only defocus, it is not recommended in sparx to use envelope functions).

5. CTF estimation, in command-line mode (only defocus, it is not recommended in sparx to use envelope functions).

6. The windowed particles must be properly normalized in order for SPARX to perform optimally. In both GUI and command-line mode, there is a choice of normalization methods. To ensure the windowed particles are normalized properly as described in Methods below, set option --norm=normalize.ramp.normvar if autoboxing in command-line mode. If autoboxing is done via the GUI, use Write output in the main window to initiate writing the particles to file. A separate Write Particle Output window will pop up, and in the drop down menu next to Normalize Images, select 'normalize.ramp.normvar'.


micrograph filenames to process


particles, either as boxed particle images or coordinates list


Automatic particle picking and CTF estimation parameters can be adjusted in the GUI after switching to Gauss mode via the drop down menu Current Boxing Tool. They can also be set manually in the database for command-line mode (see above).

--Box Size
Box size in pixels
--Use Variance
use variance micrograph for particle picking.
--Invert Contrast
invert densities in micrograph(s).
(auto:grid) number of pixels of overlap between boxes. May be negative.
--Gauss Width Adjust
width of the Gaussian kernel used for automated particle picking.
--Threshold Low
low CCF threshold for automated particle picking. Particles with a CCF value below this threshold will be discarded automatically.
--Threshold High
high CCF threshold for automated particle picking. Particles with a CCF value above this threshold will be discarded automatically.
--Input Pixel Size
pixel size of the input micrograph. It is determined from the microscope magnification and physical pixel size of the scanner. It has to be set correctly in order for CTF determination to properly.
--Output Pixel Size

pixel size of the windowed particles. Note: pix_out >= pix_in. If output pixel size is larger than micrograph pixel size, the windowed particles will be decimate appropriately. Highly recommended to use if the scanning was done with excessively small pixel size.

Lower frequency for CTF determination in [1/Å].

Higher frequency for CTF determination in [1/Å]. Only the region of the estimated power spectrum between fstart and fend will be used for the CTF determination.

--Window size
window size for power spectrum determination. Default is 512 pixels.
overlap of windows for power spectrum determination (Welch method).
--Edge size
edge size of individual windows disregarded during power spectrum determination.
--Amplitude Contrast
amplitude contrast value in %. Default is 10%.
spherical aberration coefficient in mm. Default is 2.0.
microscope voltage. Default is 200kV.

Description of typical usage

  1. Select a "typical" micrograph and activate in GUI mode.
  2. If the intention is to process micrographs interactively, select Manual in the drop down menu Current Boxing Tool and simply use computer mouse to select particles from the window that has the micrograph in it. They will appear in the small window, it is possible to delete those that were selected by mistake. Once done, use Write output button in the main window. If CTF is needed, before writing images switch to Gauss mode by selecting Gauss in the drop down menu Current Boxing Tool and estimate the CTF. The resulting CTF, including pixel size, will be added to the header of written images. It is also possible to restart the session and pick up additional particles.

  3. If the intention is to process micrographs automatically in a command line mode, one has to first establish (a) reasonable parameters for the automated method and (b) fstart and fstop for CTF defocus estimation. For automated method, one has to run the program with default parameters and examine the outcome in the small window. Some adjustment of Gaussian width (using the slider) may improve the result. Also, one may consider whether to use the "variance image" (see Method below) or original image. Once this is settled, one has to use to adjust max and min thresholds for the CCF using sliders within the Gauss Advanced panel. Unless micrographs were collected using widely varying conditions (for example mixing film and CCD), the CCF thresholds should hold for the entire set of micrographs. Once thresholds are found, they can be used in subsequent automated runs of
  4. Each time you process a micrograph with and write particle images, windowed particles will be stored in a bdb file <name>_ptcls in the particles directory where name is the micrograph name. In order to gather particles from different micrographs, you can virtually link each bdb particle file to create an unique virtual stack (metafile). This is done using For example after processing micrographs mic0.hdf, mic1.hdf and mic2.hdf, e2boxer will write bdb files mic0_ptcls, mic1_ptcls and mic2_ptcls in the directory particles. To link each file to a virtual stack named data2: bdb:particles#mic0_ptcls bdb:particles#mic1_ptcls bdb:particles#mic2_ptcls --appendvstack=bdb:.#data2. All bdb files are virtually appended to data2. Only binaries informations are link to the virtual stack. It means if attributes are changed to the header of data2, it will not affect the originals headers of mic0, mic1 and mic2. But if you modify an image from the virtual stack, this image will also be modified to the original one.

  5. Readjustment of the CTF using The minimum command is bdb:data2 --storeparm. For each set of particles that originated come from the same micrograph, CTF will be readjusted and stored in the header (option storeparm). By default, processes all particles from all micrographs. But if the intention is to readjust CTF for particles of a specific micrograph, you need to specify the micrograph name: bdb:data2 --storeparm --id_micrograph=mic2. You can also adjust new CTF parameters in the GUI. In this case CTF parameters will be automatically written to both the micrographs (and particle images if they are written to disk) after closing the GUI.

  6. Eventually, particles will be stored in a series of bdb files linked into a metafile. So, the files can be located in different directories (EMAN2DB subdirectories). If so desired, one can copy them all into one bdb file uing sxcpy command or in order to transfer to another computer, to an hdf file.


Below describes Gauss convolution based automatic particle picking which occurs in e2boxer's Gauss mode.

  1. The micrograph is high-pass filtered using a Gaussian function with half-width derived from the particle window size.
  2. If requested, the overall average is subtracted and the micrograph is squared resulting in a variance image. For data with low contrast, this step significantly improves the detection rate.

  3. The micrograph is convolved with another Gaussian function with width derived from the expected particle size (can be adjusted using slider).
  4. Locations of putative particles are selected as maxima of the Gaussian-convolved image with additional exclusion of locations that are are too close to each other, as determined by the output window size.
  5. The micrograph is decimated using a convolution with a sinc-Blackman kernel and subsampling. (Note: do not use micrographs decimated by the so-called pixel binning, it is incorrect and creates problems in sparx).

  6. The particles are windowed.
  7. Within each particle window, a 2D linear trend (a ramp) is subtracted.

  8. Each particle window is normalized using values within window corners (thus presumably only the background noise): the average and standard deviation of the background noise are calculated and then the average is subtracted from the entire image and the entire image is divided by the standard deviation. In effect, the background noise is normalized (zero average and standard deviation one), while particles have values depending on their intensity. It is essential to have this (proper) normalization in order for many sparx commands to perform optimally.


Please consult:

Penczek, P.A.: Single Particle Reconstruction, in U. Shmueli (Ed.), International Tables for Crystallography 3 edn., vol. B Reciprocal Space, 2008.

for a broad description of the automated method and rationale behind normalization.

Author / Maintainer

it is a version of e2boxer by Steve Ludtke. Gauss method was written by P. Penczek. Command-line version was written by J. Loerke. Additional changes by Penczek group.


category 1


See also


beta, still under development
not all features and formats have been tested rigorously.


Command-line version is still fairly unstable and needs further testing.

e2boxer (last edited 2013-07-01 13:13:03 by localhost)