A system for characterization of a single molecule or cell sample by directing a beam onto the sample to produce energy emanating from the sample. A periodic sample holder with through-pores containing the sample is positioned to receive the beam. At least one pore is provided in the sample holder for holding the sample. The energy emanating from the sample is detected by a detector. The sample holder can be used to study individual molecules, viruses, or cells by various techniques including x-ray diffraction, chemical analysis, optical or electron microscopy, or electrochemistry.
 The United States Government has rights in this invention pursuant to Contract No. W-7405-ENG-48 between the United States Department of Energy and the University of California for the operation of Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory.