World’s Most Powerful X-Ray Laser Is Now Colder Than Outer Space

From LCLS-II to the cosmos. Image Credit: SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory

A superconducting particle accelerator has been cooled down to just two degrees above absolute zero (-456 degrees Fahrenheit). This is where its superconductivity kicks in and it can deliver high-energy electrons with almost no energy lost in the process.

The upgraded Linac Coherent Light Source (LCLS) X-ray free-electron laser will be used to study chemical processes in detail, creating snapshots of atoms and molecules at work at incredibly fast timescales.

The laser is known as LCSL-II to distinguish it from its predecessor. It will produce pulses that are 10,000 times brighter and in a huge number – up to a million times per second. That’s 10,000 times more pulses than the original LCSL for the same power bill.

"In just a few hours, LCLS-II will produce more X-ray pulses than the current laser has generated in its entire lifetime," Mike Dunne, director of LCLS, said in a statement. "Data that once might have taken months to collect could be produced in minutes. It will take X-ray science to the next level, paving the way for a whole new range of studies and advancing our ability to develop revolutionary technologies to address some of the most profound challenges facing our society."

The cooling process had to be done very slowly so that the components wouldn’t get damaged. The astounding temperature – which is lower than the temperature in deep space – was finally achieved on April 15.

May 10, when this was announced, was the moment LCSL-II became ready for its initial operation.

"The LCLS-II project required years of effort from large teams of technicians, engineers and scientists from five different DOE laboratories across the U.S. and many colleagues from around the world," added Norbert Holtkamp, SLAC deputy director and the project director for LCLS-II. "We couldn't have made it to where we are now without these ongoing partnerships and the expertise and commitment of our collaborators."

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