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  • Linac Creates 2-Million-Degree Matter
Jan 2012
MENLO PARK, Calif., Jan. 25, 2012 — A 2-million-degree piece of “hot, dense matter” was created and probed in a controlled way for the first time using the world’s most powerful x-ray laser. This feat takes scientists a significant step forward in understanding the most extreme matter found in the center of giant planets and stars, and could help experiments aimed at recreating the nuclear fusion process that powers the sun.

Researchers at the US Department of Energy’s SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory conducted experiments using its Linac Coherent Light Source (LCLS), whose laser pulses are 1 billion times brighter than those of any earlier x-ray source. Its pulses were used to flash-heat a small piece of aluminum foil, generating solid plasma with a temperature of about 2 million degrees. The whole process took less than one-trillionth of a second.

The interior of a Linac Coherent Light Source SXR experimental chamber, set up for an investigation to create and measure a form of 2-million-degree matter. The central part of the frame contains the holder for the material that will be converted into hot, dense matter. To the left is an extreme-UV spectrometer, and to the right is a small red laser set up for alignment and positioning. (Image: University of Oxford/Sam Vinko)

“Making extremely hot, dense matter is important scientifically if we are ultimately to understand the conditions that exist inside stars and at the center of giant planets within our own solar system and beyond,” said Sam Vinko, a postdoctoral researcher at Oxford University and lead author of the paper, which appeared today in Nature

Scientists have long been able to create plasma from gases and study it with conventional lasers, said co-author Bob Nagler of SLAC, an LCLS instrument scientist. But no tools were available for doing the same at solid densities that cannot be penetrated by conventional laser beams.

Now, with its ultrashort wavelengths of x-ray laser light, the LCLS can penetrate a dense solid to create a uniform patch of plasma — in this case, a cube one-thousandth of a centimeter on a side — and probe it at the same time, Nagler said.

The resulting measurements, he said, will feed back into theories and computer simulations of how hot, dense matter behaves. This could help scientists analyze and recreate the nuclear fusion process that powers the sun.

The Oxford-led research team included scientists from SLAC (a multiprogram laboratory operated by Stanford University for the DoE’s Office of Science) and from Lawrence Berkeley and Lawrence Livermore national laboratories, as well as from five other international institutions.

For more information, visit:

coherent light source
A light source that is capable of producing radiation with waves vibrating in phase. The laser is an example of a coherent light source.
x-ray source
A material or system that emits x-rays.
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