World's brightest X-ray laser boosted with $1 billion upgrade

The laser, critical for atomic research, will be boosted by a second laser which is up to 10,000 times brighter.

The world's brightest X-ray laser, SLAC's LCLS, has received a $1 billion cash injection to vastly improve its capabilities and our understanding of how the world works on the atomic level.

The Department of Energy's SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory in Menlo Park, California, is the home of the Linac Coherent Light Source (LCLS) laser system, a critical component for researchers working on atom-based projects.

Thanks to a cash injection of $1 billion from the DOE's Office of Science, construction has now started on the LCLS-II project, which will hopefully increase the laser's capabilities.

SLAC researchers said on Monday that LCLS-II involves the creation of a second X-ray laser beam which is 10,000 times brighter than its predecessor. The laser will also be able to fire at a rate of up to a million pulses per second, which is up to 8,000 times faster than before.

This is an important step for atomic researchers as they will be able to hone in on the smallest parts of our world not only more effectively, but in a more rapid fashion -- which will boost research efforts and our own understanding of nature in the future, and how best to apply this knowledge to our own lives.

To take stills and images of atomic relationships and changes is one thing, but by having a laser which can provide reliable and quick video streams at the atomic level is a huge step-up.

LCLS Director Mike Dunne commented:

"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. This will tremendously advance our ability to develop transformative technologies of the future, including novel electronics, life-saving drugs and innovative energy solutions."

LCLS has only been accessible to researchers for six years but the laser has already been used in a variety of projects, including research into how chemical bonds form and break, the nature of electric charges and the capture of 3D images of disease-related proteins.

The upgrade is likely to bring these uses into an improved focus, and with a better view of chemical reactions, researchers and academics will be better equipped to use that knowledge for the benefit of new treatments, products and projects.

The new X-ray will work in tandem with the original model, which is already two miles long.

"Together they will allow researchers to make observations over a wider energy range, capture detailed snapshots of rapid processes, probe delicate samples that are beyond the reach of other light sources and gather more data in less time, thus greatly increasing the number of experiments that can be performed at this pioneering facility," SLAC says.

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The construction is going ahead thanks to a partnership with four other national labs -- Argonne, Berkeley Lab, Fermilab and Jefferson Lab -- and Cornell University.

It is hoped the new laser will be ready in the next few years, although the original laser will have to undergo downtime in 2017 - 2019.

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