The U.S. Department of Energy’s SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory transmitted its first X-rays using the enhanced Linac Coherent Light Source (LCLS) X-ray free electron laser (XFEL). The laboratory’s website says the LCLS-II cost $1.1 million and generates one million X-ray flashes per second, making it 8,000 times faster than its predecessor.
Put together the ideas of an advanced laboratory and a huge laser, and you’d probably think it was a movie villain’s superweapon. Yet this X-ray laser could lead the way to unprecedented advances in biology, chemistry, physics and other branches of science. It allows scientists to absorb undetectable phenomena in real time, helping us learn more about them.
This article discusses the purpose of the LCLS-II X-ray laser system and explains its function. Later I will discuss some other laser developments.
How does the record-breaking X-ray laser work?
Science news website Interesting Engineering puts the purpose of the X-ray laser into perspective by discussing its predecessor. The first Linac Coherent Light Source helped scientists observe that plants and algae capture sunlight and release oxygen.
Experts used it to create the first ‘molecular movie’ for understanding complex chemical processes. In addition, the LCLS has helped us determine how planets evolve and diamond showers form.
It fired its first laser in April 2009. Several years later, the DOE’s Stanford Linear Accelerator Center (SLAC) created a larger one called the LCLS-II.
Thanks to the superconducting accelerator, it can fire significantly more X-ray flashes. The latter has 37 modules that cool helium to -456°F or -271°C.
Interesting Engineering says it’s slightly above absolute zero. These extremely low temperatures allow the accelerator to transfer electrons to high energy states with virtually zero energy loss.
However, the SLAC researchers still used their original copper pipe accelerator. This allows them to collect data over a wide energy range. Additionally, they can gather more information in less time and expand the types of experiments the facility can perform.
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The news website said the LCLS-II has a new electron source and two new inverters that can produce X-rays from the electron beams. The “hard” and “soft” waves produce low and high energy X-rays.
As a result, researchers can perform experiments with significantly higher precision and have the opportunity to investigate further. Also the SLAC website said the X-ray laser will “provide unprecedented insights into chemical and biological reactions.”
It could lead to “more efficient and effective processes in industries ranging from renewable energy to fertilizer production and greenhouse gas reduction.” Additionally, this will “provide an unprecedented level of detail to support the development of areas such as ultra-fast computing, sustainable manufacturing and communications.”
What are some other laser projects?
The Department of Energy’s X-ray laser program isn’t the only laser-related development in recent times. For example, Google is testing a new method to provide internet connectivity using lasers.
Project Taara “uses light to transmit information at super-high speeds through the air as a very narrow invisible beam.” Managing director Mahesh Krishnaswamy told Euronews: “This is as simple as a digital camera with a laser pointer.”
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A transmitter fires a laser with data at the receiver’s “camera” so it can interpret it and convert it into bytes. Contrary to popular belief, Project Taara’s beam works in forested areas, urban areas, bodies of water, railway lines and other areas not accessible by wireless internet.
Unlike the SLAC X-ray laser, the Chinese military’s latest laser is a huge weapon. Scientists from Yuan Shengfu and the National University of Defense Technology discovered how to fire them indefinitely.
It blows gas flowing through the weapon to remove excess heat. On August 4, 2023, Yuan Shengfu released an article about a similar cooling system using helium gas. He and his team called it “a huge breakthrough in improving the performance of high-energy laser systems.”
The world’s largest X-ray laser recently fired its first shot, signaling the prospect of groundbreaking scientific discoveries. The LCLS-II will enable scientists to observe phenomena that are unobservable by other means.
This allows them to learn more about complicated processes in real time. As a result, they were able to perform new experiments that were previously impossible.
At the time of writing, there are no updates on the latest LCLS-II science projects. Learn about the latest digital tips and trends on Inquirer Tech.