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Scientists create the world’s first atomic X-ray laser

By Lisa M. Krieger, San Jose Mercury News –

SAN JOSE, Calif. — Scientists at SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory have created the world’s first atomic X-ray laser.

The researchers aimed SLAC’s Linac Coherent Light Source at a capsule of neon gas, setting off an avalanche of X-ray emissions to create the shortest, purest X-ray laser pulses ever achieved.

“X-rays give us a penetrating view into the world of atoms and molecules,” said physicist Nina Rohringer of Germany’s Max Planck Society in a news release last week.

She led the research in collaboration with scientists from SLAC, the Department of Energy’s Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory and Colorado State University.

“We envision researchers using this new type of laser for all sorts of interesting things, such as teasing out the details of chemical reactions or watching biological molecules at work,” she said.

With short pulses, scientists can capture fast changes in matter. And the purer the light, the sharper the details they can see.

The news was reported in the Jan. 25 issue of the journal Nature.

Researchers envision using the pulses in a synchronized one-two punch: The first laser triggers a change in a sample, and the second records with atomic-scale precision any changes that occurred.

In future experiments, the team will try to create even shorter-pulsed, higher-energy atomic X-ray lasers using oxygen, nitrogen or sulfur gas.

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