Stanford’s upgraded X-ray laser is up and running | Albiseyler

Stanford's upgraded X-ray laser is up and running

The newly improved particle accelerator at the DoE’s Stanford Linear Accelerator Center (SLAC) has made his first x-rays. The Linac Coherent Light Source (LCLS) upgrade, LCLS-II, can emit up to a million X-ray pulses per second (8,000 times more than the original) and a nearly continuous beam 10,000 times brighter than its predecessor. Researchers believe it will enable unprecedented research into “atomic, ultrafast phenomena” and shed new light on quantum computing, communications, clean energy and medicine.

One of the keys to a powerful accelerator upgrade is its cooling capabilities. The original LCLS, which was commissioned in 2009, was limited to 120 pulses per second due to natural limits on how many electrons could simultaneously pass through the accelerator’s copper tubes at room temperature. However, the updated version features 37 cryogenic modules cooled to negative 456 degrees Fahrenheit (colder than space), which allows “electrons to be boosted to high energies with almost zero energy loss.” The new accelerator will operate in parallel with the existing copper one.

SLAC researchers say the new capabilities will allow them to probe the details of quantum materials with unprecedented resolution, while also enabling new forms of quantum computing and “revealing unpredictable and transient chemical events” that will help advance clean energy technology. In addition, they say, it could help scientists develop new drugs by studying how biological molecules work on an unprecedented scale. Finally, they said its unsurpassed 8,000 flashes per second would “open up entirely new areas of scientific research.”


SLAC researchers began envisioning upgrades to the original LCLS in 2010. The project has since gone through $1.1 billion and involved “thousands of scientists, engineers and technicians across DOE, as well as a number of institutional partners.” It required a number of “cutting-edge components”, including a new electron source, two cryogenic power plants to produce the coolant, and two new bellows to generate X-rays from the beam. Several institutions contributed to this effort, including five US national laboratories (among others Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and Argonne National Laboratory) and Cornell University.

“Experiments in each of these areas will begin in the coming weeks and months, attracting thousands of researchers from across the country and around the world,” said LCLS Director Mike Dunne. “DOE user facilities like LCLS are provided free of charge to users – we choose based on the most important and compelling science. LCLS-II will revolutionize many academic and industrial sectors. I’m looking forward to the onslaught of new ideas – that’s what national laboratories are for.”

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