First atomic X-ray laser created

Jan 25, 2012
This artist's conception illustrates how the new atomic hard X-ray laser is created. A powerful X-ray laser pulse from SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory's Linac Coherent Light Source comes up from the lower-left corner (shown as green) and hits a neon atom (center). This intense incoming light energizes an electron from an inner orbit (or shell) closest to the neon nucleus (center, brown), knocking it totally out of the atom (upper-left, foreground). In some cases, an outer electron will drop down into the vacated inner orbit (orange starburst near the nucleus) and release a short-wavelength, high-energy (i.e., "hard") X-ray photon of a specific wavelength (energy/color) (shown as yellow light heading out from the atom to the upper right along with the larger, green LCLS light). X-rays made in this manner then stimulate other energized neon atoms to do the same, creating a chain-reaction avalanche of pure X-ray laser light amplified by a factor of 200 million. While the LCLS X-ray pulses are brighter and more powerful, the neon atomic hard X-ray laser pulses have one-eighth the duration and a much purer light color. This new laser will enable more precise investigations into ultrafast processes and chemical reactions than had been possible before, ultimately opening the door to new medicines, devices and materials. Credit: Illustration by Gregory M. Stewart, SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory

Scientists working at the U.S. Department of Energy's (DOE) SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory have created the shortest, purest X-ray laser pulses ever achieved, fulfilling a 45-year-old prediction and opening the door to a new range of scientific discovery.

The researchers, reporting today in Nature, aimed SLAC's (LCLS) at a capsule of , setting off an avalanche of X-ray emissions to create the world's first "atomic X-ray ."

"X-rays give us a penetrating view into the world of atoms and molecules," said physicist Nina Rohringer, who led the research. A group leader at the Max Planck Society's Advanced Study Group in Hamburg, Germany, Rohringer collaborated with researchers from SLAC, DOE's Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory and Colorado State University.

"We envision researchers using this new type of laser for all sorts of interesting things, such as teasing out the details of chemical reactions or watching at work," she added. "The shorter the pulses, the faster the changes we can capture. And the purer the light, the sharper the details we can see."

The new atomic X-ray laser fulfills a 1967 prediction that X-ray lasers could be made in the same manner as many visible-light lasers – by inducing electrons to fall from higher to lower energy levels within atoms, releasing a single color of light in the process. But until 2009, when LCLS turned on, no X-ray source was powerful enough to create this type of laser.

To make the atom laser, LCLS's powerful X-ray pulses – each a billion times brighter than any available before – knocked electrons out of the inner shells of many of the neon atoms in the capsule. When other electrons fell in to fill the holes, about one in 50 atoms responded by emitting a photon in the X-ray range, which has a very short wavelength. Those X-rays then stimulated neighboring neon atoms to emit more X-rays, creating a domino effect that amplified the laser light 200 million times.

Although LCLS and the neon capsule are both lasers, they create light in different ways and emit light with different attributes. The LCLS passes high-energy electrons through alternating magnetic fields to trigger production of ; its X-ray pulses are brighter and much more powerful. The atomic laser's pulses are only one-eighth as long and their color is much more pure, qualities that will enable it to illuminate and distinguish details of ultrafast reactions that had been impossible to see before.

"This achievement opens the door for a new realm of X-ray capabilities," said John Bozek, LCLS instrument scientist. "Scientists will surely want new facilities to take advantage of this new type of laser."

For example, researchers envision using both LCLS and atomic laser pulses in a synchronized one-two punch: The first laser triggers a change in a sample under study, and the second records with atomic-scale precision any changes that occurred within a few quadrillionths of a second.

In future experiments, Rohringer says she will try to create even shorter-pulsed, higher-energy atomic X-ray lasers using oxygen, nitrogen or sulfur gas.

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BradynStanaway
not rated yet Jan 25, 2012
Brilliant!
pjvc
5 / 5 (10) Jan 25, 2012
Step Two: find sharks with big enough freaking heads to mount these to.

Step Three: World domination!!!
Yellowdart
3.4 / 5 (5) Jan 25, 2012
Step Two: find sharks with big enough freaking heads to mount these to.


How about mini rays, one on each side of a hammer head's head? Dual wielding hammer heads!!
Husky
4 / 5 (1) Jan 25, 2012
hammerhead sharks, that just leaves step three, darn you beat me to the punch....
Burnerjack
3 / 5 (2) Jan 25, 2012
"...and a much purer light color." Um, isn't coherence what makes a laser a laser? While the device may be valid, that statement has my bullshit meter pegged.
@Yellowdart: you forgot "MUHAHAHAHA!!!!!!" What could Dr. No do with this?...
Sean_W
1 / 5 (2) Jan 25, 2012
Do the sharks need to wear lead aprons?
axemaster
5 / 5 (1) Jan 26, 2012
And the purer the light, the sharper the details we can see.

I'm confused. When you make a light pulse shorter, doesn't that make the fourier transform spread out? So in doing this, aren't they going to run right into Heisenberg's Uncertainty Principle?
Erscheinung
4 / 5 (8) Jan 26, 2012
And the purer the light, the sharper the details we can see.

I'm confused. When you make a light pulse shorter, doesn't that make the fourier transform spread out? So in doing this, aren't they going to run right into Heisenberg's Uncertainty Principle?


Apparently the x-rays are nearly monochromatic already, so I don't know what the Fourier transform spread out means here.

As long as the pulse in on for several wavelengths the energy-time uncertainty principal should not be an issue (I think).
Noumenon
4.3 / 5 (66) Jan 26, 2012
Step Two: find sharks with big enough freaking heads to mount these to.

Step Three: World domination!!!


You're not being realistic. How are you going to achieve world domination if the sharks have to stay in the ocean? You will need to train them to drive segways.
Noumenon
4.3 / 5 (65) Jan 26, 2012
And the purer the light, the sharper the details we can see.

I'm confused. When you make a light pulse shorter, doesn't that make the fourier transform spread out? So in doing this, aren't they going to run right into Heisenberg's Uncertainty Principle?


Apparently the x-rays are nearly monochromatic already, so I don't know what the Fourier transform spread out means here.

As long as the pulse in on for several wavelengths the energy-time uncertainty principal should not be an issue (I think).


So even for this record short pulse x ray,...
http://www.physor...ser.html
,... the pulse is on for a length of around 0.015 mm, while the wave length of x-rays is only about 0.00001.

(Erscheinung)
Noumenon
4.3 / 5 (63) Jan 26, 2012
,... mm at most.
Osiris1
1 / 5 (2) Jan 26, 2012
Shorter and shorter, toil and trouble, laser burn and cosmic ray bubble......latter day Shakespeare... Until the wavelength of the generated laser pulse at high power becomes as short as the diameter of a common nucleus and ...hits it! Then that nucleus destabilizes and releases the nuclear strong force! The resulting chain reaction may destroy much. May be the birth of a true disintegrator ray that creates intense intranuclear explosions several orders of magnitude above the fusion reaction in the hydrogen bomb. Say a gigaton of TNT or a teraton of TNT in a small space unless the energy level is severely confined...but how does one do ..that. Experiment with large nuclei elements in VERY small amounts in the path of the ray..May be on the threshhold of a storied 'matter converter' that converts matter directly to energy much more efficiently than antimatter/matter reactions. See some really neat small format spacecraft....enormous energy fields.handle the power to fold space
pjtx
not rated yet Jan 26, 2012
The shark idea is all well and good, but if you get the beam to a short enough wavelength, you could excite the protons out of the nucleus while leaving the neutrons unmolested. When these protons are replaced, the first true photon torpedo will be invented.
However, hitting the neutron should probably not be tried at home.
Congratulations to these inventors though,seriously.
Yellowdart
1 / 5 (2) Jan 26, 2012
@Yellowdart: you forgot "MUHAHAHAHA!!!!!!" What could Dr. No do with this?


Maniacel laugh, menaical laugh