Ultrafast lasers make mini X-ray device possible

June 8th, 2012 - 3:04 pm ICT by IANS  

Washington, June 8 (IANS) Researchers have generated the first laser-like beams of X-rays from a tabletop device that is likely to revolutionise developments in medicine, biology and nanotechnology.

For half a century, scientists have been trying to figure out how to build a cost-effective and reasonably sized X-ray laser that could, among other things, provide super-high-resolution imaging, according to Henry Kapteyn, physics professor at the University of Colorado Boulder.

The tabletop device produces a bright, directed beam of X-rays by ensuring that all of the atoms gas emit X-rays, according to Kapteyn, the journal Science reports.

“As an added advantage, the X-rays emerge as very short bursts of light that can capture the fastest processes in our physical world, including imaging the motions of electrons,” Kapteyn said.

Such a device also could be used by scientists to peer into a single cell or chemical reaction to gain a better understanding of the nanoworld, according to a Colorado statement.

Laser beams, which are visible light, represent one of the best ways to concentrate energy and have been a huge benefit to society by enabling the Internet, DVD players, laser surgery and a host of other uses.

Most of today’s X-ray lasers require gigantic energy sources the size of football stadia or larger, making them impracticable.

Accordingly, Colorado researchers have created a tabletop device that uses atoms in a gas to efficiently combine more than 5,000 low-energy mid-infrared laser photons to generate each high-energy X-ray photon (light atom), said Margaret Murnane, professor of physics at Colorado and and study co-author.

“Because X-ray wavelengths are 1,000 times shorter than visible light and they penetrate materials, these coherent X-ray beams promise revolutionary new capabilities for understanding and controlling how the nanoworld works on its fundamental time and length scales,” Murnane said.

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