Photonics Dictionary

free-electron laser

A free-electron laser (FEL) is a type of laser that generates coherent, high-intensity electromagnetic radiation by using a beam of accelerated electrons as the lasing medium. Unlike traditional lasers that use atoms or molecules as the active medium, free-electron lasers exploit the unique properties of free electrons, allowing them to produce laser light across a wide range of wavelengths, including the infrared, visible, and ultraviolet regions of the electromagnetic spectrum.

Key points about free-electron lasers:

Principle of operation: In a free-electron laser, electrons are accelerated to high velocities using an electron accelerator, typically a linear accelerator (linac) or a storage ring. As these high-energy electrons travel through a periodic magnetic field, they undergo undulator or wiggler motion, producing synchrotron radiation.

Undulator or wiggler: The undulator or wiggler is a periodic magnetic structure through which the electron beam passes. The alternating magnetic field causes the electrons to oscillate, emitting synchrotron radiation at each oscillation. The undulator enhances the coherent emission of radiation.

Coherent emission: Unlike spontaneous emission in traditional lasers, the radiation produced in a free-electron laser is coherent, meaning that the electromagnetic waves have a well-defined phase relationship. Coherent emission results in a highly directional and intense beam of laser light.

Tunable wavelengths: One of the significant advantages of free-electron lasers is their ability to produce laser light at tunable wavelengths. By adjusting the energy of the accelerated electrons, the wavelength of the emitted light can be tuned over a broad range.

Wide spectral range: Free-electron lasers can generate laser light in various regions of the electromagnetic spectrum, including the infrared, visible, and ultraviolet regions. This versatility makes them valuable for a wide range of scientific and industrial applications.

Research and applications:

Scientific research: Free-electron lasers are powerful tools for scientific research, providing intense and tunable sources of light for studies in physics, chemistry, and biology.

Materials science: FELs are used for studying the properties of materials at the atomic and molecular levels, including processes such as surface interactions and chemical reactions.

Medical imaging: Free-electron lasers have potential applications in medical imaging, particularly for high-resolution imaging and spectroscopy.

Industrial applications: FELs can be used in various industrial applications, including materials processing and precision machining.

High power and brightness: Free-electron lasers can achieve high levels of power and brightness, making them suitable for applications that require intense and focused beams of light.

Advanced facilities: FELs are often implemented in large-scale facilities, such as free-electron laser user facilities or research synchrotron radiation sources, where researchers from various fields can access the capabilities of these lasers.

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