Researchers have used the ultrafast X-ray pulses from a free-electron laser to image a nanoscale object in just a femtosecond. The technique, which is a new form of X-ray holography, has been pioneered by Henry Chapman from Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory and colleagues in the US, Switzerland and Germany. Being able to study materials so fast brings us one step closer to the holy grail of observing, at the same time, how all the atoms in a molecule move (Nature 448 676).
The incident FEL pulse from the left passes through a hole in a multilayer-coated detector mirror. The 'dusty mirror' consists of particles on a 20-nm-thick silicon nitride membrane backed by a multilayer-coated plane mirror. This returns the direct beam back through the hole in the detector mirror, which reflects the diffracted light onto a CCD detector. The prompt diffraction (blue, the reference wave) and delayed diffraction (red, the object wave) interfere to generate the hologram on the CCD detector.