Capturing atomic images via ultrafast X-ray pulses

The Linac Coherent Light Source at Stanford University produces ultrafast pulses of X-rays powerful enough to make images of single molecules.

Particle acceleration has been the focus of research at the Stanford Linear Accelerator Center since the early 1960s, but a relatively new project at the U.S. Department of Energy facility at Stanford University called the Linac Coherent Light Source (LCLS) is giving scientists a unique opportunity to capture images of single molecules.

With the use of microwaves, electrons are accelerated along a two-mile path where they are oscillated back and forth, generating radiation and ultrafast X-ray flashes that capture images of molecular events with a "shutter speed" of less than 100 femtoseconds.

Creating these molecular movies of atomic activity and learning more about the precise dynamics at work on these scales are expected to change our understanding of chemistry, physics, and materials science.

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James Martin is the staff photographer at CNET News, covering the geeks and gadgets of Silicon Valley. When he's not live-blogging the latest product launches from Apple, Google, or Facebook, James can be found exploring NASA, probing robotics labs, and getting behind-the-scenes with some of the Bay Area's most innovative thinkers.

 

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