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Tabletop laser-like device can create multicolor beams (Image 5)

The intensity profile of a coherent (laser-like) X-ray beam


The intensity profile of a coherent (laser-like) X-ray beam. In contrast to the incoherent (light-bulb-like) light emitted in all directions from a Roentgen X-ray tube, the X-rays produced by high harmonic generation are well directed and have low divergence. [Image 5 of 5 related images. Back to Image 1.]

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For 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, the 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 (NSF) Engineering Research Center (ERC) for EUV Science and Technology, reported their findings in the June 8, 2012, issue of Science.

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 will make 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.

"This is the broadest spectral, coherent-light source ever generated," says engineering and physics professor Henry Kapteyn of JILA at the University of Colorado at Boulder, who 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.

[Research supported by NSF grant EEC 03-10717.]

To learn more about this research, see the NSF News From the Field story All the colors of a high-energy rainbow, in a tightly focused beam. (Date image taken: 2011; date originally posted to NSF Multimedia Gallery: Feb. 22, 2017)

Credit: Tenio Popmintchev, JILA and University of Colorado Boulder

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