Milestone Achievement: Inaugural Firing of the World’s Most Powerful X-ray Laser

By: | September 23rd, 2023

Artist’s illustration of the LCLS-II system at work ( Image by SLAC )

The SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory, a vital component of the US Department of Energy (DOE), has marked a historic moment with the successful generation of its first X-rays through the upgraded Linac Coherent Light Source (LCLS) X-ray free-electron laser (XFEL). This advanced iteration, LCLS-II, came to fruition with an investment of $1.1 billion.

LCLS-II is a game-changer, with the capability to unleash up to one million X-ray flashes per second, surpassing its forerunner by an astonishing factor of 8,000. This substantial enhancement significantly bolsters scientists’ capacity to delve into ultrafast atomic-scale phenomena.

The Cool Science Behind LCLS-II’s Success

The driving force behind LCLS-II’s extraordinary capabilities lies in its superconducting accelerator, meticulously engineered for X-ray production. Comprising 37 modules, this accelerator achieves the remarkable feat of cooling helium to a bone-chilling temperature of -456 degrees Fahrenheit (-271 degrees Celsius), just a hair’s breadth above absolute zero. Under these extreme conditions, the accelerator propels electrons to high-energy states, all while experiencing virtually zero energy loss.

This monumental upgrade marks the dawn of a new era in X-ray research, empowering scientists to:

  • Embark on precise investigations of quantum materials, thus advancing the realms of computing and communications.
  • Uncover the enigmatic and fleeting world of chemical processes, contributing to the development of sustainable industries and clean energy solutions.
  • Gain profound insights into the inner workings of biological molecules, paving the way for innovative pharmaceuticals.
  • Explore the world on mind-bogglingly rapid timescales, unlocking entirely uncharted domains of scientific exploration.

LCLS Director Mike Dunne, as highlighted in the press release, declared, “Experiments in each of these areas are set to commence in the coming weeks and months, drawing in thousands of researchers from across the nation and around the globe.”

Nidhi Goyal

Nidhi is a gold medalist Post Graduate in Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences.

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