Japanese researchers have developed an atomic laser capable of operating at the shortest wavelengths to date, paving the way for improvements in imaging of microscopic objects.
The atomic X-ray laser built by a team from the University of Electro-Communications in Toyko, produces a stable beam of light with a wavelength of 0.15 nanometers, which is almost ten times shorter than what was previously achieved.
The record-breaking laser uses copper atoms to create a stream of photons when the copper foil is exposed to X-ray pulses of different energies. In this case, the researchers used one X-ray pulse as a pump source and the other as a seed of the laser beam.
This approach greatly enhanced the coherence and energy extraction efficiency of the short-wavelength beam.
The researchers hope that with further improvements, the technology could eventually produce ultra-stable, high quality X-ray images, and have a transformative effect on many application fields including medicine, quantum optics and particle physics.
Researchers have been trying to create lasers capable of generating a coherent stream of X-ray radiation for some time hoping for improvements in imaging of molecule-sized objects.
However, the wavelengths that are currently possible to achieve – lying between the UV and X-ray spectrum – still don’t provide enough detail. The laser beam frequently bypasses smaller molecules without bouncing off them, producing less detailed images as a result.
The laser developed by the team led by Hitoki Yoneda is the so called hard X-ray inner-shell atomic laser – a technology originally developed by Yoneda’s team.
Originally, the researchers only used one laser pulse bombarding the copper foil with a stream of electrons, but this approach was less efficient.