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You may have had an x-ray before at the dentist or after a broken bone, but that was a breeze compared to what they have in Menlo Park, CA.
Tucked underground beneath Stanford University is the Linac Coherent Light Source (LCLS), a powerful X-ray laser operated by the SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory. Since 2009, the particle accelerator has given scientists unprecedented insight into the molecular and atomic structure of matter by sending electrons through a copper pipe and generating 120 x-ray pulses per second. As a result, it’s often considered the most powerful X-ray in the world, and it’s about to get even more powerful.
SLAC is in the final stages of the LCLS-II upgrade project. When complete, the Accelerator will be able to generate a million x-ray pulses per second. To do this, however, the machine must be capable of superconductivity – a term that describes the disappearance of electrical resistance – allowing electrons to move even faster. The only way to do that is to make things very, very cold. That’s why the team installed a series of supercooling modules over a half-mile stretch of the accelerator, successfully bringing temperatures down to near zero on April 15.
“Unlike the copper accelerator powering LCLS, which operates at room temperature, the LCLS-II superconducting accelerator operates at 2 kelvins, only about 4 degrees Fahrenheit above absolute zero, the lowest possible temperature,” said said Eric Fauve, director of the cryogenics division of SLAC. , said in a press release. This would mean that parts of the X-ray laser would be cooler than most of outer space and the universe.
To achieve the incredibly cold temperatures needed for superconductivity, the team fitted the LCLS-II with two helium cryoplants, which cool helium gas down to its liquid phase a few degrees above absolute zero. This is similar to the superconducting cooling methods of the Large Hadron Collider, the world’s largest atom breaker in Geneva, Switzerland.
The accelerator was finally started on May 10. Now, the LCLS-II will be able to give scientists even more precise insight into molecules, observe rare chemical events, and directly measure the motions of individual atoms. He is expected to produce his first x-rays later this year.
The researchers believe that the new knowledge could also lead to a host of scientific discoveries and technological developments. For example, X-rays could help create new clean energy technologies by allowing researchers to study in great detail the chemicals in soil, water and air affected by climate change. SLAC scientists are also using LCLS to research new forms of photovoltaic technology and solar energy. Any research projects using X-rays could also lead to new forms of computing as SLAC scientists develop new methods of acquiring and storing data.
“In just a few hours, the LCLS-II will produce more X-ray pulses than the current laser has generated in its entire lifetime,” LCLS Director Mike Dunne said in a press release. “Data that once would 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 breakthrough technologies to address some of the most profound challenges facing our society.