The SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory, part of the United States Department of Energy, has launched the world’s most powerful X-ray laser, costing more than $1.1 billion. This one shoots one Millions of eruptions per second a huge increase over the original’s 120 per second and each up to 10,000 times brighter than its predecessor.
LCLS-II XFEL: the most powerful X-ray laser
The LCLS-II XFEL, the most powerful X-ray laser in the world, uses Temperatures colder than in space to accelerate electrons to nearly the speed of light. This is a new version of an instrument that can capture images of microscopic objects at high resolution and at ultra-fast timescales.
Free-electron X-ray lasers produce ultra-bright, ultra-short pulses of X-ray light that allow scientists to detect the behavior of molecules, atoms and electrons an unprecedented detail on the natural time scales at which changes in chemistry, biology and materials occur. Its predecessor was used to image viruses, recreate conditions at the center of a star, boil water hotter than plasma from the Earth’s core, produce the loudest sound and reproduce the kind of “diamond rain” that could fall on planets like Neptune.
LCLS-II works in the same basic way as the first generation: Electrons are created and then accelerated along a long tube before entering an “undulator,” which causes them to shake until they hurl X-rays back and forth. But each step of this process has now received an update of what would become one Version 2.0.
The biggest revision is the throttle in the middle. While previously electrons were shot through a copper tube at room temperature, LCLS-II uses a set of 37 Cryogenic modules cool the devices to -271 °C, slightly above absolute zero (-273.15°C). For this purpose, liquid helium coolant is fed to the modules from two large helium cryogenic systems. At such low temperatures, the niobium metal cavities inside the modules become superconducting, allowing electrons to pass through them without resistance.
What use does it have?
According to SLAC, this type of X-ray laser is a tool with a diverse application possibilities. For example, you can create movies of chemical reactions like photosynthesis as they occur in real time. It can also help analyze the structure of complex molecules and even help design quantum computers.
“The light from SLAC’s LCLS-II will illuminate the smallest and fastest phenomena in the universe, leading to important discoveries in disciplines ranging from human health to quantum materials science. This upgrade to the most powerful X-ray laser available keeps the United States at the forefront of X-ray science and provides insight into research how our world works at the atomic level. Congratulations to the incredibly talented SLAC engineers and researchers who have invested heavily in this project over the past few years in the pursuit of knowledge.” said US Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm.