Forgot your password?
typodupeerror
Technology Science

World's First X-Ray Laser Goes Live 238

Posted by timothy
from the bring-x-rays-back-to-shoe-stores dept.
smolloy writes "The world's first X-ray laser (LCLS) has seen first light. A Free Electron Laser (FEL) is based on the light that is emitted by accelerated electrons when they are forced to move in a curved path. The beam then interacts with this emitted light in order to excite coherent emission (much like in a regular laser); thus producing a very short, extremely bright, bunch of coherent X-ray photons. The engineering expertise that went into this machine is phenomenal — 'This is the most difficult light source that has ever been turned on,' said LCLS Construction Project Director John Galayda. 'It's on the boundary between the impossible and possible, and within two hours of start-up these guys had it right on.' — and the benefits to the applied sciences from research using this light can be expected to be enormous: 'For some disciplines, this tool will be as important to the future as the microscope has been to the past,' said SLAC Director Persis Drell."
This discussion has been archived. No new comments can be posted.

World's First X-Ray Laser Goes Live

Comments Filter:
  • by Dyinobal (1427207) on Tuesday April 21, 2009 @07:38PM (#27668919)
    Can it give me super powers if it accidentally hits me?!
  • Awesome (Score:5, Informative)

    by MozeeToby (1163751) on Tuesday April 21, 2009 @07:47PM (#27669047)

    I had the pleasure of taking a tour of the Advanced Photon Source at Argonne National Labs. They have a similar setup; using accelerated electrons to produce x-rays, the real achievement here is the coherency part. I wonder how this effects high speed x-ray crystallography, is it easier to decode the scatter if the light is coherent? Will we be getting real time videos of enzymes in action? If so I can only imagine what that will do for chemical and pharmaceutical research.

    • Isn't the problem simply one of integration time? (ie. getting enough interactions for imaging in too short a time cooks the enzymes.)

    • Re:Awesome (Score:5, Interesting)

      by Colonel Korn (1258968) on Tuesday April 21, 2009 @08:50PM (#27669713)

      I had the pleasure of taking a tour of the Advanced Photon Source at Argonne National Labs. They have a similar setup; using accelerated electrons to produce x-rays, the real achievement here is the coherency part. I wonder how this effects high speed x-ray crystallography, is it easier to decode the scatter if the light is coherent? Will we be getting real time videos of enzymes in action? If so I can only imagine what that will do for chemical and pharmaceutical research.

      Also, I hope this is the first step in a fairly rapid development of a tabletop x-ray laser that can live in a lab. Last time I spent a week doing small angle x-ray scattering at Argonne I had to be in the top 3 of the 48 requests submitted for x-ray time on the beamline I wanted in order to get an invitation. The other 45 groups got rejected. X-ray time is a limiting factor in a very large number of scientific fields.

      Not that I don't appreciate coherency.

      • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

        by Anonymous Coward

        I was request number 4, you insensitive clod!

      • Re:Awesome (Score:4, Insightful)

        by toQDuj (806112) on Wednesday April 22, 2009 @03:12AM (#27671913) Homepage Journal

        Well, if you're applying for run-of-the-mill synchrotron radiation, competition isn't that high. For these ultrashort pulses of radiation, however, it's very _very_ high since there are only two around (and one of them is more far UV than X-Ray), and since you can have only a limited number of endstations on these lines.

        There is some serious development on tabletop synchrotrons, but it'll take a while before they're commercial...

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by deglr6328 (150198)

      "Will we be getting real time videos of enzymes in action?"

      No, enzymes in action must be in solution and not locked into a regular crystalline lattice of the sort required to diffract X-rays of comparable wavelength with the spatially encoded information of said molecular structure which is necessary to do diffractometry.

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by rts008 (812749)

        No, enzymes in action must be in solution and not locked into a regular crystalline lattice of the sort required to diffract X-rays of comparable wavelength with the spatially encoded information of said molecular structure which is necessary to do diffractometry.

        *blinks*
        *thinks to self:Huh?*....Head a splodes!*
        *recovers*
        'Enzymes'? something about catalyst? Can't remember...
        Okay, this is obviously(to me at least) over my head, but I think I 'get it'.

        Is this a 'new' field of study that has potential to do st

    • Re:Awesome (Score:4, Informative)

      by thechao (466986) <jaroslov@gm a i l .com> on Tuesday April 21, 2009 @09:35PM (#27670121)

      IAAECXRPX (I am an ex-computational-x-ray-protein-crystallographer). Lasers a bit left wing, since we usually use anode sources for x-rays on the home source and synchotrons for MAD sets. However, if the laser has tight enough phases (60-degrees) and coherency this is not just big but HUGE. Currently, there are two difficult steps in PX: (1) crystallization; and (2) phasing. The first is becoming easier using automated screening and robots (although we are only at the beginning of this process, so probably still 5--10 years out). The second has been considered one of the outstanding problems in (at least) biology if not all of science. To put this in perspective, it was only a few years ago that just *finding* the structure (phasing) was enough to warrant a Nature or Science paper. Nowadays you're gonna need some function, too, but the phasing is still spectacularly hard. If these guys have really done this, and they're getting good power, this will be a watershed event for all of biology.

    • Re:Awesome (Score:5, Informative)

      by Bowling Moses (591924) on Tuesday April 21, 2009 @10:41PM (#27670543) Journal
      Well for high-speed crystallography it isn't so much that data collection is the problem (for most applications). You can collect a high-quality data set of a protein at APS in under a half an hour. The real bottlenecks in x-ray crystallography is, was, and unfortunately most likely always will be protein crystallization. Way back in the day when protein crystallography was just starting, it was thought to be somewhat bizarre for proteins to crystallize. Fast forward four or five decades and now if your protein is reasonably soluble, reasonable stable, and has a definite structure (not all proteins have a well-defined structure and just flop about in a range of states), then you can probably get it to crystallize well enough to solve the structure. But it might take a long time to pull off, years even. But that's only for soluble proteins. If a protein is normally in the cell membrane, it is much, much harder. A cell membrane is basically soap. Soap doesn't crystallize. There are only a few structures of integral membrane proteins despite a lot of work on the problem. Also proteins that only have one domain or even just a helix poking into the membrane can be tricky--they're usually done by just removing the offending membrane bit but often suffer from solubility problems.

      For part two, lasers produce monochromatic light. One technique for doing real-time x-ray crystallography involves using polychromatic x-rays. Normally you get a single, specific, monochromatic wavelength (, or at least close enough that for data processing you largely ignore everything else. The resulting diffraction pattern looks something like that seen on wikipedia's page [wikipedia.org]. That page and links are actually pretty good. However you can use a broader spectrum of x-rays and get a different diffraction pattern due to having different wavelengths of light hitting your protein crystal over the course of the exposure, or a Laue diffraction image [anl.gov] (ignore the color--computer added). Interpreting Laue diffraction's significantly harder because you also have to take into account that you have basically multiple different wavelengths of light producing multiple different, overlapping diffraction patterns. Unlike monochromatic diffraction patterns, which require exposure times of at least tenths of a second even at APS (or potentially hours on a weaker rotating anode x-ray source like at an individual lab), Laue diffraction can be measured in picoseconds--on the time scale of chemical reactions catalyzed by enzymes. A few groups have done time-resolved x-ray crystallography with reactions by building up series of Laue images. You can't do it for everything, though. Data processing problems aside you typically need a chemical reaction that can be triggered by light. Also, proteins frequently undergo structural reorientations during catalysis--the change will have to be small enough so that the packing of proteins in the crystal lattice will not be affected. Time-resolved x-ray crystallography using Laue diffraction is never going to be widely used, but the results can still be very exciting.

      What these guys have in mind and how practical it is I don't know since I've somewhat shifted away from protein x-ray crystallography. I do remember going to a conference a few years ago where some guys wanted to use a single molecule to collect data on--by blasting the bajesus (that's a technical term) out of it with an extremely short, extremely massive burst of x-rays. They had the problem though of ripping off basically all of the electrons in the process, IIRC. Even at weak home rotating anode x-ray sources you still have to worry about radiation damaging your crystal (and affecting your resulting model of the protein), but blasting away all the electrons? That's like comparing a flyswatter and a tactical nuke.
      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by Bowling Moses (591924)
        I forgot to include that there are movies of proteins during catalysis by using Laue diffraction, and I've been lucky enough to see a talk where they speaker showed such a movie. While I can't at the moment find a good example I did find this large .pdf [anl.gov] of a powerpoint presentation. Scroll down to page 17 and you can start to see a little bit of what's going on in the case of release of carbon monoxide from myoglobin. Which has some broader relevance as carbon monoxide poisoning results from that molecul
  • by fm6 (162816)

    I seem to recall that they fired up an X-Ray laser as part of the tests for the Strategic Defense Initiative. The whole thing was powered by an atomic blast, so it was kind of a one-shot deal.

    If they had actually deployed lasers like that one, I think I would have been more afraid of our missile defense than of any missiles.

    Ronnie promised us that SDI would make nuclear weapons "impotent and obsolete". I think he didn't quite understand how hard that is.

    • Re:First? (Score:5, Interesting)

      by DragonWriter (970822) on Tuesday April 21, 2009 @07:59PM (#27669213)

      If they had actually deployed lasers like that one, I think I would have been more afraid of our missile defense than of any missiles.

      Considering that our pre-Star Wars anti-bomber defenses included preparing to toss up missiles with nuclear warheads in the midst of bomber formations, often necessarily over populated areas (as with Nike-Hercules), its not like the bomb-pumped lasers to defend against ballistic missiles would have been all that out of line with what preceded them (had they, you know, been practical to deploy.)

      • Re:First? (Score:5, Informative)

        by Martin Blank (154261) on Tuesday April 21, 2009 @09:03PM (#27669837) Journal

        To be fair, the Nike-Hercules missiles were among the last nuclear defenses intended to be employed. The first was to knock out air bases with nuclear strikes to prevent bombers from getting in the air in the first place. After that came air interception using missiles such as the AIR-2 Genie. Nuclear-tipped SAMs would attempt to intercept over the ocean or unpopulated territory where possible (the Nike-Hercules had a range of over 75 miles), and explode over populated territories only if nothing else worked.

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by deglr6328 (150198)

      Not the first. Maybe the first X-ray FEL (maybe) but not the first X-ray laser proper. The first X-ray lasers were created in nickel and samarium plasmas created by few ns long, multi Kj, UV light pulses of LLNL's Novette laser [wikipedia.org] (predecessor of the Nova laser [wikipedia.org]) in the early '80s [harvard.edu]. The work was probably done with SDI in mind.

    • As far as I can recall, while some work (and a lot of promotion) was done on bomb-pumped X-ray lasers for SDI, there wasn't any experiment that definitively demonstrated the effect.

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Strategic_Defense_Initiative#X-ray_laser [wikipedia.org]

      Wikipedia seems to agree, for what it's worth. I wish all my books weren't in storage - I'm sure this is mentioned in one of Richard Rhodes' books on the bomb, somewhere.

    • Re:First? (Score:5, Insightful)

      by techno-vampire (666512) on Tuesday April 21, 2009 @10:22PM (#27670437) Homepage
      Ronnie promised us that SDI would make nuclear weapons "impotent and obsolete". I think he didn't quite understand how hard that is.

      Oh, I don't know; I'm pretty sure he did. You see, the whole idea of SDI was to start something very expensive that Just Might Work. That meant that the Soviets had to try to copy us, and the effort caused their rickety, barely-functional economy to collapse, bringing down the whole Soviet Union with it. And that, my friend, was the whole point of the exercise: fight the Cold War on economic grounds, where we could easily out do them rather than on military grounds where we were stuck in a stalemate.

      • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

        by 18_Rabbit (663482)

        Ronnie promised us that SDI would make nuclear weapons "impotent and obsolete". I think he didn't quite understand how hard that is.

        Oh, I don't know; I'm pretty sure he did. You see, the whole idea of SDI was to start something very expensive that Just Might Work. That meant that the Soviets had to try to copy us, and the effort caused their rickety, barely-functional economy to collapse, bringing down the whole Soviet Union with it. .

        Riiight. And that's exactly what Ronnie was thinking about when he shoveled all that money to SDI. "Let's do this because we know the Russians can't possibly keep up and it will bankrupt them!"

        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          I know you're trying to be sarcastic, but you're exactly right. How do I know? Well, I happen to know the chairman [jerrypournelle.com] of the citizen's advisory committee that worked out the idea, and the man [wikipedia.org] who's house was used for the meetings.
      • by amck (34780) on Wednesday April 22, 2009 @05:40AM (#27672525) Homepage

        There are problems with this idea.
        (1) Its justification after the fact. No credible proof has been provided that this was ever the plan: rather, the Soviet Union collapsed economically,
        in a way unexpected by the CIA and the intelligence community, then the SDI folks say "See ? that was our Sekrit plan all along". If it was the
        plan, it shouldn't have been a suprise.
        (2) SDI didn't change soviet spending. They did practically no SDI work (in comparison to the US), and Soviet military spending didn't change.
        Counter-measures to SDI are / were far cheaper than SDI itself: SDI meant spending billions on new tracking and laser developments to appear
        credible (even if no-one involved believed it would work); countering it meant a few dummy balloons and chaff. It risked bankrupting the US
        far before bankrupting the SU.
        (3) Not only did Soviet spending not change, the CIA knew that it didn't change, and yet SDI continued. A very expensive, failed, policy was continued
        in order to keep money flowing into certain companies. It was a pork barrel.

        The soviet economic collapse was triggered by OPEC, not SDI. When Saudi Arabia et al opened stopcocks and flooded the world with cheap oil,
        the Soviet export economy collapsed.

  • by Goalie_Ca (584234) on Tuesday April 21, 2009 @07:49PM (#27669079)
    Right now X-Ray sources are quite random and waste _a lot_ of energy. A nice pencil thin directional beam would do wonders for CT scanners.
    • Unfortunately, from TFA it seems that your CT scanner would need to have a two-mile linear accelerator behind it.
      • by Liquidrage (640463) on Tuesday April 21, 2009 @08:03PM (#27669267)
        But once they ship it off to Taiwan for mass production that two miles will become two centimeters. And we'll all have our own X-Ray laser pointer.
        • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

          by lahvak (69490)

          And we'll all have our own X-Ray laser pointer.

          Awesome! You won't be able to see what you are pointing at, but it can still burn out your eyes.

          • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

            by John Hasler (414242)

            > You won't be able to see what you are pointing at...

            I suspect that sufficient power at 1.5nm will make just about anything flouresce. Or at least glow.

            • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

              by cbhacking (979169)

              Yes, for values of "glow" equal to "burst into flames." If sufficiently concentrated, it really doesn't take much energy to ignite something assuming it has a relatively low flash temperature (like wood, paper, even plastic or paint).

            • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

              by joe_frisch (1366229)

              I was surprised, but the LCLS laser doesn't make thing fluoresce. We had a camera watching a wavelength calibration foil (Nickel) and didn't see any light at all until we burned through. We don't have a good energy calibration yet, but it is something like a millijoule in 50 femtoseconds.

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by moosesocks (264553)

        Holy crap. My research is relevant to something for once!

        We're working on improving the accelerating gradients of linacs. Although I'm not sure that we'll ever get to the point where this technology is practical for use in CT scanners, we've had tremendous improvements over the past few years. Utilizing superconducting accelerating cavities, we've improved acceleration gradients from 5-7MV/m (megavolts per meter) to 35-70MV/m, with further improvements hypothetically possible.

        The ILC (International Linea

    • by Sentry21 (8183) on Tuesday April 21, 2009 @08:30PM (#27669547) Journal

      As far as medical radiology goes, a pencil-thin beam would be nice for added precision, but also for dramatically reducing the radiation dose. My local hospital has stopped giving me CT scans because I've had so many in the past (out of necessity) that they don't want to fry me any more than necessary.

      Replacing the emitters in a CT scanner, which basically spray you with radiation and rely on carefully-placed sensors to create the line-of-sight they want, with a directed, low-power beam that only hits with radiation those cells that actually need it, will dramatically reduce the amount of radiation that patients receive.

      • A coherent source should also make higher sensitivity detectors possible.

      • My local hospital has stopped giving me CT scans because I've had so many in the past (out of necessity) that they don't want to fry me any more than necessary.

        MRI doesn't do the job?

      • by Roger W Moore (538166) on Tuesday April 21, 2009 @11:30PM (#27670851) Journal
        Actually, IIRC, you need a beam wide enough to irradiate the entire patient's body at once otherwise the Fourier transform used to generate the picture gives artifacts so I don't think a pencil thin beam will help. However I have heard that it is great for killing tumours. Apparently you can slice and dice them with a coherent X-Ray source and it is far worse for them than healthy tissue. This way you can reduce the collateral damage to tissue near the tumour.
    • Right now X-Ray sources are quite random and waste _a lot_ of energy. A nice pencil thin directional beam would do wonders for CT scanners.

      You are kidding right? Have you any idea how hideously inefficient a particle accelerator is?

  • How soon... (Score:2, Funny)

    by roc97007 (608802)

    ...before it's available in a pointer?

    I'd pay money for that...

  • Huh? (Score:3, Funny)

    by msauve (701917) on Tuesday April 21, 2009 @07:55PM (#27669151)

    X-ray laser (LCLS)

    Strangest acronym evar.

    • by Locke2005 (849178)
      What's so strange about LCLS as an acronym for "Linac Coherent Light Source"? (Other than the fact that Linac is itself an abbreviation for Linear Accelerator, so it should really by LACLS.
    • by Hatta (162192)

      Yeah really, why not call it Xaser? Fun to say and Xs make everything cooler.

    • "X-Rasor". Say it out loud. Doesn't it just sound awesome?

  • How else would Honour Harrington defeat the peeps?
    • by Lehk228 (705449)
      with hemphills grav lance?
    • By using the new Bomb Pumped Gravitic Lasers developed by Admiral of the Red Hemphill.

    • by cbhacking (979169)

      The idea has been used in Sci-Fi for a long time - I seem to recall Asimov making references to it, and probably others, in fairly golden-age stuff. It does actually work - I think it's actually been tested as a potential anti-ICBM measure - but aiming seems like it would be tricky.

  • size (Score:3, Funny)

    by jschen (1249578) on Tuesday April 21, 2009 @08:01PM (#27669227)
    So when will it be small enough to fit on a shark's head?
  • popcorn (Score:3, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday April 21, 2009 @08:02PM (#27669251)

    Can I suggest that they put this thing in the belly of an airforce drone and attempt to cook a tub of popcorn on the ground? Perhaps in my professor's house?

  • Stupid question (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Locke2005 (849178) on Tuesday April 21, 2009 @08:29PM (#27669529)
    Can it be used for more accurate photolithography [wikipedia.org]?
  • X-ray drive (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Anenome (1250374) on Tuesday April 21, 2009 @08:31PM (#27669559)

    How long until Sony announces their new 'Exray' drive, the successor to Bluray--capable of holding 60 petabytes on a single disk? :P

  • by imperious_rex (845595) on Tuesday April 21, 2009 @08:49PM (#27669707)
    The first x-ray laser was part of SDI research in the early 80's. Click here [llnl.gov] and here [iop.org] for more info.
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by McNihil (612243)

      It actually says Hard X-ray's

      http://hesperia.gsfc.nasa.gov/sftheory/xray.htm [nasa.gov]

      This announcement believe it or not has actually made my day. It will 100% spur innovation like the original Red Lasers did.

    • by cbhacking (979169)

      The ones you're referring to destroyed themselves on use, yes? I'm not sure there was anything in those systems that could be termed reusable. By comparison, the LCLS is possibly the first example of what most people think of when they say "laser" - not the beam of coherent light itself, but the device which generates said beam (without vaporizing itself).

  • X-ray lasers sing this song
    doo-dah, doo-dah
    Blasting holes 'bout nine miles long
    oh, de-do-dah-day
    Gonna recharge all night
    Gonna align all day
    You're standing right in the beam line now
    You better get out of the way

    (And if anyone can tell me who that's attributable to, you'll be my new Internet Best Friend.)

    • by earlymon (1116185)

      Barring someone from MRC or EG&G, I'd have to go with the Royal Crown Review.

      Course - third line seems to have changed some from the original.

  • I wonder how long it will take for all the advances produced by the millions and millions of dollars and careers spent will be squandered by crappy information security and shipped to china for 37 cents in long distance charges.

  • (Looks at 2 mile long accelerator): "We're going to need a bigger shark."

  • by smaddox (928261) on Tuesday April 21, 2009 @10:26PM (#27670461)

    Everyone seems to be confused about what an x-ray laser is. It isn't like a laser pointer that can be focused down to a small dot. X-ray's can't readily be focused, except by clever uses of beryllium [accel.de], and even those aren't very efficient.

    No, the applications of this are quite different. Think about an expanded laser beam. What can you do with that? Well, you can make holograms, for one. An interesting thing about holograms is that the size of the image scales with the light that illuminates them. So, if you could record a hologram in X-rays, then view it with red light, it would be magnified by ~700 times. Unfortunately, x-ray holograms are unlikely, because recording a hologram requires redirecting the beam at least once. The best X-ray mirrors (beryllium) are no more than 1% efficient.

    So X-ray lasers aren't really that interesting for the layman. However, they are extremely important for science. I don't know specifically what this one will be used for, but you can bet it will lead to new discoveries.

  • I'd like 100 square miles of thin film solar cells please....

    The next phone call goes to SpaceX.

    An Evil Overlord's work is never done.

  • not a true laser (Score:3, Interesting)

    by khallow (566160) on Wednesday April 22, 2009 @07:49AM (#27673121)
    Numerous places have X Ray "lasers" including SLAC. These aren't true lasers since the mechanism that generates the coherent pulse of light doesn't do so via stimulated emission (where a cascade of photons generated by electrons dropping to a lower potential result in a pulse or beam of extremely coherent light, same phase, direction, etc). Packets of electronics are pushed at near light speeds through magnetic fields that bend or wiggle the packet, generating a pulse of very coherent light (bending the path of an electron causes a photon to be emitted) that compares well in coherence to laser generated light. What appears to be new is that the frequency of X Rays is in the upper limits of the X Ray spectrum. The higher frequency will be useful for even finer details of molecular reactions, internal cell processes, and other remarkable research that is being done with these light sources.

We are Microsoft. Unix is irrelevant. Openness is futile. Prepare to be assimilated.

Working...