Inside the Superconducting X-ray Laser Engineered to Image the Atomic World


The LCLS-II will be the world’s brightest x-ray laser when it delivers “first light” in the early 2020’s. With this superconducting accelerator online, scientists will be able to see the hidden world of atoms and molecules like never before.
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Cover image credit: Nathan Taylor

The LCLS is short for the Linac Coherent Light Source. It’s the world’s first hard x-ray free electron laser. The LCLS uses a particle accelerator to fire extremely bright electrons to create fast pulses of hard x-rays, which is why the machine is called an x-ray laser.

At the time of its first light in 2009, the Linac Coherent Light Source generated x-ray pulses a billion times brighter than anything around. The LCLS is a tool unlike anything before it. We’re able to deliver these pulses of x-rays in one millionth of one billionth of a second.

The LCLS maxes out at 120 pulses per second. So to see the ultra small world like never before, scientists and engineers are building something new. The LCLS-II is going to take the free electron laser field up another quantum leap. This will be unprecedented and will allow for a beam that’s 8,000 times brighter than the LCLS beam and running at this million pulses per second.

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Read More:
LCLS-II: A World-Class Discovery Machine
“LCLS-II will provide a major jump in capability – moving from 120 pulses per second to 1 million pulses per second. This will enable researchers to perform experiments in a wide range of fields that are now impossible. The unique capabilities of LCLS-II will yield a host of discoveries to advance technology, new energy solutions and our quality of life.”

10 ways SLAC’s X-ray laser has transformed science
“If successful, LCLS would enable new science at ultrasmall, ultrafast scales. It would be a new tool, a “microscope” that could spy on the intricate movements of atoms and molecules, capturing their motion in freeze-frame “movies.” It would deepen our fundamental understanding of the building blocks of life and position scientists to make advancements in areas ranging from clean energy to next-generation computing and improved medicines.”

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“A $1 billion upgrade called LCLS-II is turning the 2-mile-long accelerator into the world’s most powerful X-ray laser. X-rays this powerful can be used like a super-intense camera flash — bright enough to freeze the motion of molecules midway through chemical reactions.”


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