The Upgraded LCLS-X Laser Can Reveal the Inner Workings of the Atomic World

The SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory at the US Department of Energy has successfully fired the first pulses of the upgraded Linac Coherent Light Source (LCLS) atomic X-ray free-electron laser. This powerful X-ray laser is capable of delivering up to 1 million pulses per second, each up to 10,000 times brighter than previous instruments, making it significantly more powerful than its predecessor. The laser’s upgraded capabilities allow it to track the internal structure of molecules and freeze-frame atomic and molecular motion, similar to a strobe light in a disco.

To generate its intense pulses of ultraviolet light, the LCLS-II uses a photocathode that collides with an electron cascade. These electrons are then accelerated through cryogenic modules containing superconducting magnets cooled to incredibly low temperatures. The X-rays emitted by the laser can penetrate molecules and reveal their structural details. The enhanced X-ray laser offers scientists the ability to capture more detailed snapshots of chemical processes and material properties in real time.

The LCLS-II can produce X-rays at “hard” and “soft” wavelengths, allowing scientists to study different levels of matter, from pharmaceutical molecules to quantum materials. Soft X-rays are particularly useful for observing the movement of energy and charge within molecules, while hard X-rays provide information about atomic structures and the world around us. The laser’s capabilities will have diverse applications, such as studying photosynthesis and examining the structure of proteins and pharmaceuticals used to treat diseases.

Experiments using the upgraded laser will begin within weeks, and proposals for laser usage can be submitted. With only a limited number of free-electron X-ray laser facilities globally, the upgraded LCLS-X offers researchers an unprecedented opportunity to investigate fundamental science, clean energy applications, and initiatives related to national security and quantum information science.

Sources: The Register, SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory