The world's most powerful publicly known X-ray laser at the US Department of Energy's SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory has fired its first pulses with an upgrade that could see it scan our world in strange new ways.
After a decade of effort, the lab's Linac Coherent Light Source (LCLS) atomic X-ray free-electron laser has been upgraded and can deliver up to a million pulses per second, each up to 10,000 times brighter than those emitted by previous instruments - making it 8,000 times more powerful than its predecessor. Or so Uncle Sam says.
"The wavelength of these X-rays is about the size of an atom, so the X-ray laser can track the internal structure of a molecule. And because the X-rays arrive in an ultrafast burst - femtosecond, a millionth of a billionth of a second - then we can 'freeze frame' the motion – similar to a strobe light in a disco," Mike Dunne and Greg Hays, the LCLS director and LCLS-II project director, explained to The Register.
"So we build up a stop-motion movie of how the world around us works at this atomic molecular scale – following a chemical reaction in real time, or watching the emergence of a quantum phenomenon like superconductivity."