Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:


New technique by CU-Boulder researchers opens door to tabletop X-ray laser

A team of researchers at the University of Colorado at Boulder has developed a new technique to generate laser-like X-ray beams, removing a major obstacle in the decades-long quest to build a tabletop X-ray laser that could be used for biological and medical imaging.

For nearly half a century, scientists have been trying to figure out how to build a cost-effective and reasonably sized X-ray laser to provide super-high imaging resolution, according to CU-Boulder physics professors Henry Kapteyn and Margaret Murnane, who led the team at JILA, a joint institute of CU-Boulder and the National Institute of Standards and Technology. Most of today's X-ray lasers require so much power that they rely on fusion laser facilities the size of football stadiums, making their use impractical.

"We've come up with a good end run around the requirement for a monstrous power source," Kapteyn said.

A paper on the subject by Murnane and Kapteyn, CU-Boulder graduate students Xiaoshi Zhang, Amy Lytle, Tenio Popmintchev, Xibin Zhou and Senior Research Associate Oren Cohen of JILA was published in the online version of the journal Nature Physics on Feb. 25.

If they can extend the new technique all the way into the hard X-ray region of the electromagnetic spectrum, which they think is just a matter of time because there are no physical principles blocking the way, the ramifications would be felt in numerous fields.

"If we can do this, it might make it possible to improve X-ray imaging resolution by a thousand times, with impacts in medicine, biology and nanotechnology," Murnane said. "For example, the X-rays we get in the hospital are limited by spatial resolution. They can't detect really small cancers because the X-ray source in your doctor's office is like a light bulb, not like a laser. If you had a bright, laser-like X-ray beam, you could image with far higher resolution."

To generate laser-like X-ray beams, the team used a powerful laser to pluck an electron from an atom of argon, a highly stable chemical element, and then slam it back into the same atom. The boomerang action generates a weak, but directed beam of X-rays.

The obstacle they needed to hurdle was combining different X-ray waves emitted from a large number of atoms to generate an X-ray beam bright enough to be useful, according to Kapteyn. In other words, they needed to generate big enough waves flowing together to make a strong X-ray.

The biggest problem was the waves of X-rays do not all come out "marching in step" because visible laser light and X-ray beams travel at different speeds in the argon gas, Murnane said. This meant that while some X-ray waves combined with other waves from similar regions to become stronger, waves from different regions would cancel each other out, making the X-ray output weaker.

To correct this, the researchers sent some weak pulses of visible laser light into the gas in the opposite direction of the laser beam generating the X-rays. The weak laser beam manipulates the electrons plucked from the argon atoms, whose emissions are out of sync with the main beam, and then slams them back into the atoms to generate X-rays at just the right time, intensifying the strength of the beam by over a hundred times.

"Think of a kid on a swing," Kapteyn said. "If you keep pushing at the right time the swing goes higher and higher, but if you don't push it at the right time, you'll eventually stop it.

"What we found is essentially another beam of light to control exactly when the swing is getting pushed. By putting the light in the right place, we don't allow the swing to be pushed at the wrong time."

Henry Kapteyn | EurekAlert!
Further information:

More articles from Physics and Astronomy:

nachricht OU-led team discovers rare, newborn tri-star system using ALMA
27.10.2016 | University of Oklahoma

nachricht First results of NSTX-U research operations
26.10.2016 | DOE/Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory

All articles from Physics and Astronomy >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Etching Microstructures with Lasers

Ultrafast lasers have introduced new possibilities in engraving ultrafine structures, and scientists are now also investigating how to use them to etch microstructures into thin glass. There are possible applications in analytics (lab on a chip) and especially in electronics and the consumer sector, where great interest has been shown.

This new method was born of a surprising phenomenon: irradiating glass in a particular way with an ultrafast laser has the effect of making the glass up to a...

Im Focus: Light-driven atomic rotations excite magnetic waves

Terahertz excitation of selected crystal vibrations leads to an effective magnetic field that drives coherent spin motion

Controlling functional properties by light is one of the grand goals in modern condensed matter physics and materials science. A new study now demonstrates how...

Im Focus: New 3-D wiring technique brings scalable quantum computers closer to reality

Researchers from the Institute for Quantum Computing (IQC) at the University of Waterloo led the development of a new extensible wiring technique capable of controlling superconducting quantum bits, representing a significant step towards to the realization of a scalable quantum computer.

"The quantum socket is a wiring method that uses three-dimensional wires based on spring-loaded pins to address individual qubits," said Jeremy Béjanin, a PhD...

Im Focus: Scientists develop a semiconductor nanocomposite material that moves in response to light

In a paper in Scientific Reports, a research team at Worcester Polytechnic Institute describes a novel light-activated phenomenon that could become the basis for applications as diverse as microscopic robotic grippers and more efficient solar cells.

A research team at Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) has developed a revolutionary, light-activated semiconductor nanocomposite material that can be used...

Im Focus: Diamonds aren't forever: Sandia, Harvard team create first quantum computer bridge

By forcefully embedding two silicon atoms in a diamond matrix, Sandia researchers have demonstrated for the first time on a single chip all the components needed to create a quantum bridge to link quantum computers together.

"People have already built small quantum computers," says Sandia researcher Ryan Camacho. "Maybe the first useful one won't be a single giant quantum computer...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>



Event News

#IC2S2: When Social Science meets Computer Science - GESIS will host the IC2S2 conference 2017

14.10.2016 | Event News

Agricultural Trade Developments and Potentials in Central Asia and the South Caucasus

14.10.2016 | Event News

World Health Summit – Day Three: A Call to Action

12.10.2016 | Event News

Latest News

How nanoscience will improve our health and lives in the coming years

27.10.2016 | Materials Sciences

OU-led team discovers rare, newborn tri-star system using ALMA

27.10.2016 | Physics and Astronomy

'Neighbor maps' reveal the genome's 3-D shape

27.10.2016 | Life Sciences

More VideoLinks >>>