Acrylamide is an efficient quencher of tryptophanyl fluorescence which we report to be very discriminating in sensing the degree of exposure of this residue in proteins. The quenching reaction involves physical contact between the quencher and an excited indole ring, and can be kinetically described in terms of a collisional and a static component. The rate constant for the collisional component is a kinetic measure of the exposure of a residue in a protein, and values ranging from 4 X 10(9) M-1 S-1 for the fully exposed tryptophan in the polypeptide, adrenocorticotropin, to less than 5 X 10(8) M-1 S-1 for the buried residue in azurin have been found. Static quenching is readily detected in proteins that are denatured, or contain only a single fluorophor. Quenching patterns for most multi-tryptophan containing proteins are difficult to analyze precisely, but qualitative information can, nevertheless, be extracted. Applications of this probing technique for monitoring protein conformational changes, such as the acid-induced expansion of human serum albumin, and inhibitor binding to enzymes, are presented. The value of this method lies in its ability to sense not only the steady-state exposure of a residue in a protein, but also its dynamic exposure.