SLAC's National Accelerator Laboratory is already home to the world's brightest X-ray laser -- but it's getting an upgrade. The $US1 billion project will see the device become 10,000 times brighter and 8000 times faster. The X-ray laser will eventually throw out up to a million pulses per second. That will allow it to probe the the atomic world in unprecedented detail -- analysing, for instance, how bonds form, the way in which reactions take place or the movement of electrical charge.
The facility will be built alongside the existing X-ray laser. But instead of creating laser pulses by accelerating electrons down copper pipe, it will push them through niobium metal cavities held at -271C. That process creates "an almost continuous X-ray laser beam with pulses that are 10,000 times brighter, on average, than those of [the original laser] and arrive up to a million times per second," according to SLAC.
"[It] will take X-ray science to the next level, opening the door to a whole new range of studies of the ultrafast and ultrasmall," explained SLAC's Mike Dunne in a press release. "This will tremendously advance our ability to develop transformative technologies of the future, including novel electronics, life-saving drugs and innovative energy solutions."