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Marker: Tabletop X-Ray Lasers: From Star Wars to Nanotechnology

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Margaret Murnane, and Henry C. Kapteyn, JILA and the University of Colorado
08 October 2014 from 8:00 PM to 10:00 PM
117 Osmond Laboratory
Contact Name
Nitin Samarth
Contact Phone
(814) 863-0136
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Ever since the invention of the laser over 50 years ago, scientists have been striving to create an x-ray version of the laser. The x-ray sources we currently use in medicine, security screening, and science are in essence the same x-ray light bulb source that Röntgen discovered in 1895. In the same way that visible lasers can concentrate light energy far better than a light bulb, a directed beam of x-rays would have many useful applications in science and technology. The problem was that until recently, we needed ridiculously high power levels to make an x-ray laser. The first successful x-ray laser experiments were, in fact, powered by nuclear detonations as as part of the “star wars” program in the 1980s. To make a practical, tabletop-scale, x-ray laser source required taking a very different approach that involves transforming a beam of light from a visible laser into a beam of x-rays. The story behind how this happened is surprising and beautiful, highlighting how powerful our ability is to manipulate nature at a quantum level. Along the way, we also learned to generate the shortest strobe light in existence - fast enough to capture even the fleeting dance of electrons in the nanoworld. This new capability shows promise for next-generation electronics, data and energy storage devices, and future medical diagnostics. 

Popmintchev et al, Science 336, 1287 (2012)