Tabletop X-Ray to Image Nanoworld: All the Colors of a High-Energy Rainbow, in a Tightly Focused Beam
This story is from the category Pure Research
Date posted: 09/06/2012
For the first time, researchers have produced a coherent, laser-like, directed beam of light that simultaneously streams ultraviolet light, X-rays, and all wavelengths in between.
One of the few light sources to successfully produce a coherent beam that includes X-rays, this new technology is the first to do so using a setup that fits on a laboratory table.
An international team of researchers, led by engineers from the NSF Engineering Research Center (ERC) for EUV Science and Technology, reports their findings in the June 8, 2012, issue of Science.
By focusing intense pulses of infrared light--each just a few optical cycles in duration--into a high-pressure gas cell, the researchers converted part of the original laser energy into a coherent super-continuum of light that extends well into the X-ray region of the spectrum.
The X-ray burst that emerges has much shorter wavelengths than the original laser pulse, which will make it possible to follow the tiniest, fastest physical processes in nature, including the coupled dance of electrons and ions in molecules as they undergo chemical reactions, or the flow of charges and spins in materials.
"This is the broadest spectral-bandwidth, coherent-light source ever generated," says engineering and physics professor Henry Kapteyn of JILA at the University of Colorado at Boulder, who led the study with fellow JILA professor Margaret Murnane and research scientist Tenio Popmintchev, in collaboration with researchers from the Vienna University of Technology, Cornell University and the University of Salamanca.
"It definitely opens up the possibility to probe the shortest space and time scales relevant to any process in our natural world other than nuclear or fundamental particle interactions," Kapteyn adds. The breakthrough builds upon earlier discoveries from Murnane, Kapteyn and their colleagues to generate laser-like beams of light across a broad spectrum of wavelengths.
The researchers use a technique called high-harmonic generation (HHG). HHG was first discovered in the late 1980s, when researchers focused a powerful, ultra-short laser beam into a spray of gas. The researchers were surprised to find that the output beam contained a small amount of many different wavelengths in the ultraviolet region of the spectrum, as well as the original laser wavelength. The new ultraviolet wavelengths were created as the gas atoms were ionized by the laser.
"Just as a violin or guitar string will emit harmonics of its fundamental sound tone when plucked strongly, an atom can also emit harmonics of light when plucked violently by a laser pulse," adds Murnane. "The laser pulse first plucks electrons from the atoms, before driving them back again where they can collide with the atoms from which they came. Any excess energy is emitted as high-energy ultraviolet photons."
Like many phenomena, when HHG was first discovered, there was little science to explain it, and it was considered more a curious phenomenon than a potentially useful light source. After years of work, scientists eventually understood how very high harmonics were emitted, however there was one major challenge that most researchers gave up on--for most wavelengths in the X-ray region, the output HHG beams were extremely weak.
Murnane, Kapteyn and their students realized that there might be a chance to overcome that challenge and turn HHG into a useful X-ray light source--the tabletop-scale X-ray laser that has been a goal for laser science since shortly after the laser was first demonstrated in 1960.
"This was not an easy task," says Murnane. "Unlike a laser--which gets more intense as more energy is pumped into the system--in HHG, if the laser hits the atoms too hard, too many electrons are liberated from the gas atoms, and those electrons cause the laser light to speed up. If the speed of the laser and X-rays do not match, there is no way to combine the many X-ray waves together to create a bright output beam, since the X-ray waves from different gas atoms will interfere destructively."
Popmintchev and JILA graduate student Ming-Chang Chen worked out conditions that enable X-ray waves from many atoms in the gas to interfere constructively. The key was to use a relatively long-wavelength, mid-infrared laser and a high pressure gas cell that also guides the laser light. The resulting bright, X-ray beams maintain the coherent, directed beam qualities of the laser that drives the process.
See the full Story via external site: www.sciencedaily.com
Most recent stories in this category (Pure Research):
04/05/2013: Computer simulations reveal the energy landscape of ion channels