bridges vol. 34, July 2012 / Noteworthy Information

Source: the first time, researchers have produced a coherent, laser-like, directed beam of light that simultaneously streams ultraviolet light, X-rays, and all wavelengths in between.

One of the few light sources to successfully produce a coherent beam that includes X-rays, this new technology is the first to do so using a setup that fits on a laboratory table.

An international team of researchers, led by engineers from the National Science Foundation's Engineering Research Center (ERC) for EUV Science and Technology, reported its findings in the June 8, 2012, issue of Science (DOI: 10.1126/science.1218497).

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By focusing intense pulses of infrared light – each just a few optical cycles in duration – into a high-pressure gas cell, the researchers converted part of the original laser energy into a coherent super-continuum of light that extends well into the X-ray region of the spectrum.

The X-ray burst that emerges has much shorter wavelengths than the original laser pulse, which makes it possible to follow the tiniest, fastest physical processes in nature, including the coupled dance of electrons and ions in molecules as they undergo chemical reactions or the flow of charges and spins in materials (click here to view the video with researchers from JILA at the University of Colorado at Boulder as they describe the new tabletop X-ray "laser.")

"This is the broadest spectral, coherent-light source ever generated," says engineering and physics professor Henry Kapteyn of JILA (formerly known as the Joint Institute for Laboratory Astrophysics) at the University of Colorado at Boulder. Professor Kapteyn led the study with fellow JILA professor Margaret Murnane and research scientist Tenio Popmintchev, in collaboration with researchers from the Vienna University of Technology, Cornell University, and the University of Salamanca.

For further information, please go to the NSF's press release.