Team creates laser-like X-ray beams from tabletop device

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An international research team led by the University of Colorado Boulder (CU-Boulder) has generated the first laser-like beams of X-rays from a tabletop device.

According to a statement, the development could lead to advances in many fields, including medicine, biology and nanotechnology development.

According to CU-Boulder physics professor Henry Kapteyn, scientists have been trying for many years to build a cost-effective and reasonably sized X-ray laser that could, among other things, provide super-high-resolution imaging.

Such a device could also be used by scientists to look into a single cell or chemical reaction to gain a better understanding of interactions at those dimensions.

Many current X-ray lasers require a large energy source, making their use impractical.

To overcome this, the CU-Boulder researchers have created a tabletop device that uses atoms in a gas to combine more than 5,000 low-energy mid-infrared laser photons to generate each high-energy X-ray photon, said Margaret Murnane, a CU-Boulder physics professor who is co-leading the research efforts.

‘Because X-ray wavelengths are 1,000 times shorter than visible light and they penetrate materials, these coherent X-ray beams promise…new capabilities for understanding and controlling how the nanoworld works on its fundamental time and length scales,’ said Murnane. ‘Understanding the nanoworld is needed to design and optimise next-generation electronics, data and energy storage devices and medical diagnostics.’

According to Kapteyn, the tabletop device — an X-ray tube in the soft X-ray region — produces a bright, directed beam of X-rays by ensuring that all of the atoms in a multi-atmosphere pressure gas emit X-rays.

‘As an added advantage, the X-rays emerge as very short bursts of light that can capture the fastest processes in our physical world, including imaging the motions of electrons,’ said Kapteyn.

The findings appeared on 8 June in the journal Science.