Tuesday, December 11, 2007

A compact synchrotron radiation source driven by a laser-plasma wakefield accelerator

Scientists tried to send the electrons generated from laser-plasma wakefield accelerator to the undulator to produce the light. This new experiment was reported in the recent Nature Physics.

The laser pulse is focused by an off-axis parabolic mirror into a supersonic helium gas jet where it accelerates electrons (blue line) to several tens of mega-electron volt energy. The electron beam profile may be monitored by a removable scintillating screen. The electrons propagate through an undulator, producing synchrotron radiation, and into a magnetic electron spectrometer. Radiation is collected by a lens and analysed in an optical spectrometer. The spectrometer is protected against direct laser and plasma exposure by a thin aluminium foil in front of the undulator.

Abstract: Ultrashort light pulses are powerful tools for time-resolved studies of molecular and atomic dynamics1. They arise in the visible and infrared range from femtosecond lasers2, and at shorter wavelengths, in the ultraviolet and X-ray range, from synchrotron sources3 and free-electron lasers4. Recent progress in laser wakefield accelerators has resulted in electron beams with energies from tens of mega-electron volts to more than 1 GeV within a few centimetres, with pulse durations predicted to be several femtoseconds9. The enormous progress in improving beam quality and stability makes them serious candidates for driving the next generation of ultracompact light sources. Here, we demonstrate the first successful combination of a laser-plasma wakefield accelerator, producing 55–75 MeV electron bunches, with an undulator to generate visible synchrotron radiation. By demonstrating the wavelength scaling with energy, and narrow-bandwidth spectra, we show the potential for ultracompact and versatile laser-based radiation sources from the infrared to X-ray energies.

Saturday, December 08, 2007

STED microscopy sees details on the nanoscale

Stimulated emission depletion (STED) microscopy has demonstrated that, contrary to a longstanding notion, diffraction-unlimited spatial resolution is viable with conventional lenses and visible light. Currently providing 15–70 nm resolution, it is entering the life sciences at a fast pace, while still undergoing technical improvements. Scientists from Max Planck Institute summarized its principles and recent outcomes. The whole summary should be found from optics.org.

A simple stage-scanning STED setup. Inset: overlay of the excitation focus (green) and the STED efficiency (red) for three different STED laser powers. Credit: Max Planck Institute for Biophysical Chemistry.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Laser light alone can open, close world's fastest optical shutter without heating or cooling

A new study reports that a laser can be used to switch a film of vanadium dioxide back and forth between reflective and transparent states without heating or cooling it. It is one of the first cases that scientists have found where light can directly produce such a physical transition without changing the material’s temperature.

The study, "Coherent Structural Dynamics and Electronic Correlations during an Ultrafast Insulator-to-Metal Phase Transition in VO2", which was published in the Sept. 18 issue of Physical Review Letters, was conducted by a team of physicists from Vanderbilt University and the University of Konstanz in Germany headed by Richard Haglund of Vanderbilt and Alfred Leitenstorfer from Konstanz.

Sunday, December 02, 2007

World’s largest laser picks up the pace

With their target completion date just a year and a half away, scientists and technicians at the National Ignition Facility (NIF) are quickening their pace to install and test the rest of NIF’s 192 lasers and prepare for a new round of preliminary experiments in 2008.

This is a report from Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL) official web site:

Ninety-six NIF beamlines have been fired together for the first time, with “excellent” control system and laser stability, according to NIF & Photon Science Principal Associate Director Ed Moses. Last month the facility’s injection laser systems, which initiate the laser pulses, were fired for 144 beamlines.

“A total infrared energy of more than 2.5 megajoules has now been fired,” Moses said. “This is more than 40 times what the Nova laser (NIF’s predecessor) typically operated at the time it was the world's largest laser.”

The first of the facility’s two 96-beam laser bays was commissioned at the end of July. Each of the 96 beams fired an infrared output energy of about 22,000 joules, more than enough to meet NIF’s operational and performance requirements. Since then six more eight-beam “bundles” are being commissioned in the second laser bay, and three of these bundles have been operationally qualified.

Overall commissioning of the NIF beamlines is scheduled for 2009.

The laser shots last about 25 billionths of a second, a tiny fraction of the time it takes to blink an eye. Firing the beams requires operation of 2,300 high-quality optics and instrumentation modules and nearly 400 computers running a million lines of control system code.

The tests measure the quality of each beam’s spatial profile and temporal pulse shape. Even though each shot is exceedingly short in time, its energy output and frequency is designed to vary significantly throughout its duration depending on the type of experiments being conducted.

Meanwhile, data gathered from experiments conducted at NIF in 2003-2004 have enabled sophisticated computer simulations that confirm NIF’s ability to reach the energy levels and beam quality required to produce the world’s first demonstration of inertial confinement fusion.

The “NIF Early Light” experiments included four shots using four laser beams at high energy on a full-scale target for the first time. Simulations of the experiments on LLNL’s world-class supercomputers matched the actual experimental data to an unprecedented degree. The experiments and simulations indicate that NIF’s laser beams will propagate effectively in plasma-filled targets designed to achieve fusion ignition and thermonuclear burn.

NIF experiments next year will focus 96 beams on a gold hohlraum (the eraser-sized capsule containing the fusion target) filled with a light gas mixture. Dubbed “Eos” for the Greek goddess of dawn, the experiments will use the first set of beams from the completed laser bay, traveling to the center of the ten-meter diameter target chamber. They are designed to help validate key aspects of the full-scale ignition campaign that begins in 2010.