Stanford's X-ray laser promises new discoveries

MENLO PARK, Calif. — Stanford University researchers said they've built the world's most powerful X-ray laser, which they hope will lead to new discoveries in drug development, energy production and computer science.

The Linac Coherent Light Source has been up and running for several months at the SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory. But it got its official dedication Monday with a visit from U.S. Energy Secretary Steven Chu.

The only one of its kind in the world, the laser makes ultrabright, ultrafast X-ray pulses from a high-energy electron beam. It enables scientists to view matter on a scale of individual atoms and to take stop-motion pictures of moving atoms and molecules.

"This is a new instrument that will enable us to see the structure of materials that we could not determine by any other means," Chu said. "Knowing those structures will lead to a deeper understanding of how they work and numerous new discoveries, from pharmaceuticals to solar voltaics."

The lab broke ground on the facility in 2006 and the first X-ray laser light was created in April 2009. Experiments soon followed and in recent months the results of that research has started being published in scientific journals.


"The early experiments are swimming in data and are already exploring new frontiers — the science is starting to flow," said SLAC Director Persis Drell.

In its short life, the laser already has helped scientists create "hollow atoms" after stripping atoms such as neon completely bare of their electrons from the inside out. It also imaged bacteria and parts of the photosynthetic system found in plants.

"We are doing science that looks pretty complicated," Chu said. "But it will find its way into things we use everyday."

The facility already has received more than 800 proposals from scientists from around the globe who want to conduct experiments using the laser.


Information from: San Jose Mercury News,

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