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  • Superpowerful X-ray Laser Dedicated
Aug 2010
MENLO PARK, Calif., Aug. 17, 2010 — The Linac Coherent Light Source, (LCLS) the first and most powerful x-ray laser, was officially dedicated Monday at SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory by Energy Secretary Steven Chu.

Secretary of Energy Steven Chu (left) with SLAC Director Persis Drell and Stanford President John Hennessy. (Photo by Brian Long)

The $420 million LCLS is a new type of scientific facility that promises to revolutionize our view of the atomic world as it performs basic scientific research and drives applications in energy and environmental sciences, drug development and materials engineering. It is able to view matter on a scale of individual atoms, and on time scales fast enough to see atomic motion and changes in the chemical bonds between them, effectively making stop-motion movies of the basic processes of matter and life for the first time.

The idea of LCLS, which involves making ultrabright, ultrafast x-ray pulses from a high-energy electron beam, was first conceived in 1992, with the notion that SLAC's existing linear accelerator could potentially form the backbone of the laser. After much research and development, SLAC broke ground on the facility in October 2006. The LCLS's first x-ray laser light was created on April 10, 2009, and first experiments started a few months later. The results of those first experiments, conducted by hundreds of scientific users from around the world, have recently started to appear in high-profile scientific journals.

An example of laser setup experiment that the LCLS can help conduct.

These early results have imaged bacteria and parts of the photosynthetic system found in plants. They have also stripped atoms such as neon completely bare of their electrons, from the inside out for the first time, which is made possible due to the high energy x-rays. Current and future experiments are investigating more complicated molecules and beginning to piece together the first movies of atomic dynamics in action.

"The early experiments are swimming in data and are already exploring new frontiers — the science is starting to flow," said SLAC Director Persis Drell.

"The LCLS shows what the scientific workforce of our nation, in cooperation with our international partners, is capable of achieving," said Chu. "Pioneering research will remain critical if the US is to stay a global leader when it comes to innovation and competitiveness."

Artist's conception of a device that could take holographic images of single molecules. The x-rays pass through the molecule and leave a distinctive pattern of rings and spots on the surface of the detector at the back of the chamber.

At Monday's dedication ceremony, Stanford University President John Hennessy spoke alongside Chu and other guests, including US representatives Zoe Lofgren (D-San Jose) and Mike Honda (D-San Jose).

The LCLS is funded by the Department of Energy's Office of Science with construction led by SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory in partnership with Argonne and Lawrence Livermore national laboratories. Other national labs and universities provided significant support and components of the machine during the development of the LCLS.

The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 provided $53.6 million to accelerate the construction of scientific instruments for the LCLS and to develop an additional instrument.

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