Scientists use a custom-designed machine and a reprogrammed Xbox controller to create atomically precise lenses

Dec 07, 2012 by Justin Eure  

Unleashing some of the most promising energy technologies of tomorrow—from electric vehicle fuel cells to photovoltaics—hinges upon understanding tiny structures spanning just billionths of a meter. One way to explore this critical nanoscale world is by sending high-intensity x-ray beams through materials, similar to the way doctors capture images of internal bone structure using large x-ray devices. The challenge with fringe physics, however, is that focusing that penetrating power on just a single nanometer takes an entirely different caliber of lens.

Using a massive, custom-built deposition device, Brookhaven Lab scientist Ray Conley and his team are able to grow special lenses one at a time. As intense x-rays pass through these multilayer Laue lenses (MLL), the light diffracts and bends toward a single point. Creating these atomically precise optics is no small feat, and Conley continues to tweak the process of growing light-bending films and carving them into precise lenses.

Check out the video above for an introduction to the lens-growing device used at Brookhaven Lab, and get an insider's look at the most unexpected tool of the trade: a wireless Xbox controller.

This video is not supported by your browser at this time.

Inside the room-length deposition system, a transport car travels through a vacuum-sealed chamber, collecting the lens layers brick by atomic brick to form a completed MLL. Initially, that car could only be manipulated by repeatedly entering commands directly into a nearby computer. To increase efficiency and provide tactile control while he works, Conley's team reprogrammed an Xbox controller to move the transport car at variable speeds based upon which analog joystick he uses, control plasma deposition with different buttons, and even provide variable rumble feedback.

The completed MLLs will be deployed on beamlines at Brookhaven Lab's forthcoming National II, one of the world's most advanced light sources, to reveal unparalleled details of nanomaterial structures.

Explore further: New insights found in black hole collisions

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Reducing stress in multilayer laue lenses

Sep 21, 2011

Multilayer Laue lenses (MLLs) developed at the U.S. Department of Energy Office of Science’s Advanced Photon Source (APS) focus high-energy x-rays so tightly they can detect objects as small as 16 nanometers ...

Engineers give industry a moth's eye view

Nov 26, 2007

When moths fly at night, their eyes need to capture all the light available. To do this, certain species have evolved nanoscopic structures on the surface of their eyes which allow almost no light to reflect off the surface ...

Brookhaven Lab wins R&D 100 Award for X-ray focusing device

Jul 26, 2006

The U.S. Department of Energy's (DOE) Brookhaven National Laboratory has won a 2006 R&D 100 award for developing the first device able to focus a large spread of high-energy x-rays. The device, called a Sagittal Focusing ...

Recommended for you

New insights found in black hole collisions

21 hours ago

New research provides revelations about the most energetic event in the universe—the merging of two spinning, orbiting black holes into a much larger black hole.

X-rays probe LHC for cause of short circuit

21 hours ago

The LHC has now transitioned from powering tests to the machine checkout phase. This phase involves the full-scale tests of all systems in preparation for beam. Early last Saturday morning, during the ramp-down, ...

Swimming algae offer insights into living fluid dynamics

Mar 27, 2015

None of us would be alive if sperm cells didn't know how to swim, or if the cilia in our lungs couldn't prevent fluid buildup. But we know very little about the dynamics of so-called "living fluids," those ...

Fluctuation X-ray scattering

Mar 26, 2015

In biology, materials science and the energy sciences, structural information provides important insights into the understanding of matter. The link between a structure and its properties can suggest new ...

Hydrodynamics approaches to granular matter

Mar 26, 2015

Sand, rocks, grains, salt or sugar are what physicists call granular media. A better understanding of granular media is important - particularly when mixed with water and air, as it forms the foundations of houses and off-shore ...

User comments : 0

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.