K-State attosecond research could aid Homeland Security

May 21, 2007

Building a new laser-like X-ray source powerful and quick enough to capture fast motion in the atomic world is a big job. But Zenghu Chang, Kansas State University professor of physics, and his team of physicists and engineers think their efforts will be worth it.

Possible applications of this attosecond laser technology include identifying elements. This means a laser pulse could be beamed into a suspicious package, for example, to quickly determine if it in fact did contain dangerous chemicals.

Chang is the principal investigator on a grant from the Department of Defense for research to improve attosecond sources and exploit the technology breakthrough for applications. The award is $1.25 million per year for three years with a possible two-year extension. Other team member institutions are Texas A&M University and the University of Ottawa.

Attosecond pulses are a special kind of X-ray; they can identify what molecules are in something.

"Just like each person has his or her unique fingerprints, molecules can be identified by their unique features too," Chang said. "As an example, different molecules absorb light differently. That is why we see things with different colors. We can tell which one is made of gold and which one is made of silver just by looking at their colors."

Attosecond pulses are extremely fast flashes of light, which Chang likens to a camera flash.

"This is very similar to taking pictures of a moving body with a camera," he said. "One has to reduce the exposure time using the shutter of the camera for a fast-moving object otherwise the image is blurred."

For their research on attoseconds, Chang and colleagues need a short-pulse, high-power laser. They are developing the technique to control the phase of a laser pulse and then amplify it.

Other possible uses for this short-pulse, high-power technology include machining. Most of the time when cutting with a high-power laser, more than what is necessary is cut, due to its extra heat. But with short pulses, the laser is much more precise.

"The technology is very new and we're still looking at possible applications," Chang said.

Source: Kansas State University

Explore further: IHEP in China has ambitions for Higgs factory

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

A global view of oceanic phytoplankton

Jul 18, 2014

University of Maine oceanographer Ivona Cetinic is participating in a NASA project to advance space-based capabilities for monitoring microscopic plants that form the base of the marine food chain.

Nature's strongest glue comes unstuck

Jul 18, 2014

Over a 150 years since it was first described by Darwin, scientists are finally uncovering the secrets behind the super strength of barnacle glue.

New tool, savings for manufacturing hard materials

Jul 17, 2014

"Machining," in particular the process of cutting hard, brittle materials during manufacturing, can be difficult, often because the cutting tool, typically made of single crystal diamond, the hardest material ...

Recommended for you

IHEP in China has ambitions for Higgs factory

2 hours ago

Who will lay claim to having the world's largest particle smasher?. Could China become the collider capital of the world? Questions tease answers, following a news story in Nature on Tuesday. Proposals for ...

The physics of lead guitar playing

3 hours ago

String bends, tapping, vibrato and whammy bars are all techniques that add to the distinctiveness of a lead guitarist's sound, whether it's Clapton, Hendrix, or BB King.

The birth of topological spintronics

4 hours ago

The discovery of a new material combination that could lead to a more efficient approach to computer memory and logic will be described in the journal Nature on July 24, 2014. The research, led by Penn S ...

The electric slide dance of DNA knots

8 hours ago

DNA has the nasty habit of getting tangled and forming knots. Scientists study these knots to understand their function and learn how to disentangle them (e.g. useful for gene sequencing techniques). Cristian ...

User comments : 0