New laser captures atoms and molecules in motion


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Like images of a dancer in a dark room stopped in motion by the pulsing of a strobe light, the new X-ray laser at SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory in Menlo Park is capturing previously unseen motions of atoms and molecules.

Steven Chu, the U.S. Secretary of Energy, visited SLAC yesterday (Aug. 16) to dedicate the Linac Coherent Light Source, the world's most powerful X-ray laser, said Melinda Lee, a SLAC spokeswoman.

"The LCLS shows what the scientific workforce of our nation, in cooperation with our international partners, is capable of achieving," Mr. Chu said. "Pioneering research will remain critical if the U.S. is to stay a global leader when it comes to innovation and competitiveness."

The laser creates "stop-motion movies of the basic processes of matter and life for the first time," Ms. Lee said.

The $420 million project broke ground in October 2006 and was built with Department of Energy funds and in partnership with national laboratories in Livermore and Argonne, Illinois, Ms. Lee said. The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 contributed $53.6 million.

The device creates ultra-bright, ultra-fast X-ray pulses from a high-energy electron beam and has been operational since April 2009.

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