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Work starts on 'first' X-ray free electron laser

16 Nov 2006

The world's first X-ray free electron laser is under construction at Stanford University, US, and scheduled to be ready by 2008. Meanwhile Yale has launched its Nanoscience and Quantum Engineering Center

The US Department of Energy's Stanford Linear Accelerator Center, Menlo Park, Ca, has started building the Linac Coherent Light Source (LCLS), the world's first X-ray free-electron laser. Scheduled for completion in August 2008, the LCLS will produce ultra-fast, ultra-short pulses of X-rays a billion times brighter than any other source on earth.

"The LCLS will drive understanding and opportunity as no facility has done before," said Raymond Orbach, DOE Under Secretary of Science, at the site's opening ceremony. "What you'll have here is what we are all hoping for: a window into the future, where conventional wisdom could be turned on its head."

Nearly 1,000 visitors attended the turf-cutting (right)as Orbach and other dignitaries including SLAC Director Jonathan Dorfan, Stanford University Provost John Etchemendy and various US Congress members dug out the first spadefuls of earth. The gathering cheered as an excavator scooped the first bucketful from the site of the LCLS near Stanford's Experimental Hall.

The Future of X-ray Science

The LCLS represents the fourth generation of machines designed to produce synchrotron radiation for scientific studies, an idea originally pioneered at SLAC in the 1970s. Synchrotron radiation, in the form of X-rays or to man-made materials with unusual properties.

Unlike a circular storage ring, the LCLS will produce X-light, is typically produced by electrons circulating in a storage ring at nearly the speed of light. These extremely bright X-rays can be used to investigate various forms of matter ranging from objects of atomic and molecular size rays using the final third of SLAC's existing linear accelerator, in conjunction with long arrays of special magnets known as "undulators." These powerful devices also owe their existence to research conducted at SLAC.

Because undulators produce intense pulses of radiation lasting barely a billionth of a second, the LCLS will work much like a camera's flash, enabling scientists to take images of atoms and molecules in motion, shedding light on the fundamental processes of life on an unprecedented scale.

"The power of this light source to unveil the structure of the molecular world is almost limitless," said Dorfan. "This is a historic event in the already illustrious history of our laboratory."

The LCLS project is a collaboration among Department of Energy laboratories including Argonne National Laboratory, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, and the University of California Los Angeles.

Yale launches Nanoscience, Quantum Engineering Center

Yale University, US, has established the Yale Institute for Nanoscience and Quantum Engineering, which it says will unite its six existing research efforts in molecular electronics, quantum information processing, chemistry of soft materials, nanoparticles, photonics, and nanoscale biomedical engineering.

An initial investment of $5.5 million will bolster the institute's infrastructure and initiate seed projects adding to the more than $100 million of funding for these areas of investigation at Yale. The initiative is a part of Yale's commitment of over $1 billion to research infrastructure and science and engineering programs.

New research programs that link current programs will focus on biomaterials and bioengineering, nanoparticles and quantum dots, nanoelectronics and photonics, and quantum information processing.

"Yale scientists are developing significant new insights and applications through unprecedented cross-disciplinary collaboration," said Yale President Richard C. Levin. "The Yale Institute for Nanoscience and Quantum Engineering is designed to further the integration of the disciplines to benefit both faculty research and student understanding of nanoscale physical principles."

The institute will provide a new mechanism for interdisciplinary faculty hiring and interaction while building on collaborations in engineering, physics, and chemistry. Sixty faculty members from 10 departments will form the initial intellectual base and will provide expertise as more faculty are progressively drawn into this new area, Yale said.

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