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Engineering a Better Economy - 3

“The people at NSF saw the potential of this work early on and helped us get the program going. They’ve provided long-term support for ideas that had no guarantee of paying off. And our laser work is now used in hundreds of labs worldwide.”

Henry Kapteyn, Department of Physics, University of Colorado, and researcher at the new NSF-supported Engineering Research Center for Extreme Ultraviolet Science and Technology (EUV ERC).

Imagine a future . . .
in which computers run 20 times faster and the most precise microscopes ever created allow researchers to view real-time movies of the complex dance of atoms in chemical reactions, catalysts, or living cells.

Researchers Henry Kapteyn and Margaret Murnane of the University of Colorado are pioneers in the quest for speed. They build lasers that flash for ten quadrillionths of a second, the fastest things that humans have ever created.

Using a device that could fit on a dining room table, Murnane and Kapteyn have developed a laser-like beam of light at extreme ultraviolet wavelengths (10–100 times shorter than visible light) that pulses in ultrashort bursts, enabling researchers to “see” tiny features and to measure the fastest reactions in the microscopic
world. This capability will help bring down a major hurdle to developing components for ultrafast next-generation computers and ultrasmall nanoscale machines.

The system devised by Kapteyn and Murnane for converting visible laser light into EUV wavelengths is the first small-scale laser-like source to cover this entire wavelength region. It also produces a tightly focused EUV beam that is difficult to achieve using pre-existing laser technology. The new technology could have a profound impact on science and technology for years to come, with applications ranging widely from basic research on the behavior of molecules to engineering of manufacturing and biotechnology systems.

Researcher Margaret Murnane, Deputy Director of the new NSF-supported Engineering Research Center for Extreme Ultraviolet Science and Technology (EUV ERC), and the extreme ultraviolet light source she developed with Henry Kapteyn.

Sharply focused, laser-like beams of EUV light can be used to “see” tiny objects, with many applications in such fields as microscopy, lithography, and nanotechnology.

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