X-Ray Beam Refined to Scalpel Precision

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MENLO PARK, Calif., Aug. 13, 2012 — A thin sliver of diamond can transform the Linac Coherent Light Source (LCLS) into a precise tool for studying and manipulating matter at the atomic level — and may enable experiments that have never before been possible.

In the “self-seeding” technique, conducted by scientists at the US Department of Energy’s SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory, the diamond filters the laser beam to a single x-ray color, which is then amplified. The method yields laser pulses focused to higher intensity in a much narrower band of x-ray wavelengths and will deliver sharper images of materials, molecules and chemical reactions.

To create a precise x-ray band and make the Linac Coherent Light Source even more “laser-like,” researchers installed this chamber with a slice of diamond crystal. The new hardware sits halfway down the 130-m bank of magnets where the x-rays are generated. (Image: Matt Beardsley, SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory)

“The more control you have, the finer the details you can see,” said Jerry Hastings, a SLAC scientist and co-author of the research, which appeared in Nature Photonics.

Self-seeding has the potential to produce x-ray pulses with significantly higher density than the LCLS currently produces. The increased intensity in each pulse could be used to probe deep into complex materials, helping answer questions about exotic substances such as high-temperature superconductors or intricate electronic states found in topological insulators.

The LCLS’s new self-seeding improvements yield laser pulses focused to higher intensity in a much narrower band of x-ray wavelengths, as seen in these spectrographs comparing a normal SASE (self-amplified spontaneous emission) pulse (left) and a seeded one (right). The results promise to speed research discoveries and may enable experiments that have never before been possible. (Image: J. Amman et al, adapted by Greg Steward, SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory)

“People have been talking about self-seeding for nearly 15 years,” Hastings said. “The method we incorporated at SLAC was proposed in 2010 by Gianluca Geloni, Vitali Kocharyan and Evgeni Saldin of the European XFEL and DESY research centers in Germany. When our team from SLAC and Argonne National Laboratory built it, we were surprised by how simple, robust and cost-effective the engineering turned out to be.”

The LCLS generates its laser beams by accelerating bunches of electrons to nearly the speed of light and setting them on a zigzag path with a series of magnets. This forces the electrons to emit x-rays, which are gathered into laser pulses a billion times brighter than any available before, and fast enough to scan samples in quadrillionths of a second.

Without self-seeding, the x-ray pulses contain a range of wavelengths in unpredictable patterns that cannot all be used by experimenters. Until now, a narrower-wavelength band could be created at LCLS only by subtracting the unwanted wavelengths, resulting in a substantial loss of intensity.

Part of the SLAC team that worked on self-seeding is shown alongside the hardware in the LCLS Undulator Hall. From left: John Amann, Henrik Loos, Jerry Hastings and Jim Welch. (Image: Matt Beardsley, SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory)

To create a precise x-ray wavelength band and make the LCLS more “laser-like,” researchers installed a diamond crystal slice halfway down the 130-m bank of magnets where the x-rays are generated.

“The resulting pulses could pack up to 10 times more intensity when we finish optimizing the system and add more undulators,” said Zhirong Huang, a SLAC accelerator physicist and co-author.

The self-seeding system has excited the international scientific community. Representatives from other x-ray laser facilities, including FEL in Switzerland, SACLA in Japan and the European XFEL, helped with it and are studying how to implement their own systems.

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Published: August 2012
The technology of generating and harnessing light and other forms of radiant energy whose quantum unit is the photon. The science includes light emission, transmission, deflection, amplification and detection by optical components and instruments, lasers and other light sources, fiber optics, electro-optical instrumentation, related hardware and electronics, and sophisticated systems. The range of applications of photonics extends from energy generation to detection to communications and...
Americasatomic level manipulationBasic ScienceCaliforniadiamond crystalEuropean XFELJerry Hastingslaser pulsesLCLSLinac coherent light sourcephotonicsprecise laser pulsesResearch & TechnologySACLAscalpel precisionself-seedingSLAC National Accelerator LaboratorysuperconductorsSwiss FELUS Department of Energywavelength precisionx-ray laser pulsesx-ray lasersZhirong HuangLasers

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