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The world’s brightest X-ray laser is about to get 10,000 times brighter

Scientists at the Department of Energy’s SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory are preparing to upgrade the lab’s X-Ray laser instrument with a new almost continuous laser that is 10,000 times brighter and 8,000 times faster than the existing Linac Coherent Light Source (LCLS). Construction on the new LCLS-II began this week.

The LCLS pulsed its first laser in April 2009 and is among the most powerful X-ray sources in the world. It is used to record objects at the atomic level with a capture speed in the billionths of a second. Scientists have used the technology to study the forming and breaking of molecular bonds, to track the movement of electrical charges and to generate 3D images of proteins for medical research purposes.

The new LCLS-II will generate its extremely bright X-Ray laser beam using electrons that travel nearly the speed of light. This LCLS-II requires the installation of a new superconducting accelerator that uses niobium metal corridors that are refrigerated to -465 degrees Fahrenheit. These lowered temperatures make it possible for the instrument to conduct electricity with zero loss. As the electrons zoom through these corridors, they will allow for an almost continuous X-ray laser beam that pulses up to a million times per second.

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The upgraded LCLS-II will be installed alongside the existing LCLS and will be used to continue SLAC’s study of all things fast and small. The brighter and faster laser will make it possible to study chemical, biological and atomic-level processes that are presently not possible with the existing LCLS. “LCLS-II will take X-ray science to the next level, opening the door to a whole new range of studies of the ultrafast and ultrasmall,” said LCLS Director Mike Dunne. “This will tremendously advance our ability to develop transformative technologies of the future, including novel electronics, life-saving drugs and innovative energy solutions.”