Heavy-atom derivatization is routinely used in protein structure determination and is thus of critical importance in structural biology. In order to replace the current trial-and-error heavy-atom derivative screening with a knowledge-based rational derivative-selection method, the reactivity of more than 40 heavy-atom compounds over a wide range of buffer and pH values was systematically examined using peptides which contained a single reactive amino-acid residue. Met-, Cys- and His-containing peptides were derivatized against Hg, Au and Pt compounds, while Tyr-, Glu-, Asp-, Asn- and Gln-containing peptides were assessed against Pb compounds. A total of 1668 reactive conditions were examined using mass spectrometry and were compiled into heavy-atom reactivity tables (http://sis.niaid.nih.gov/cgi-bin/heavyatom_reactivity.cgi). The results showed that heavy-atom derivatization reactions are highly linked to buffer and pH, with the most accommodating buffer being MES at pH 6. A group of 21 compounds were identified as most successful irrespective of ligand or buffer/pH conditions. To assess the applicability of the peptide heavy-atom reactivity to proteins, lysozyme crystals were derivatized with a list of peptide-reactive compounds that included both known and new compounds for lysozyme derivatization. The results showed highly consistent heavy-atom reactivities between the peptides and lysozyme.