Six years ago, the Department of Energy’s SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory answered
a bold call by the scientific community: Build a transformative tool for discovery, an X-ray laser
so bright and fast it can unravel the hidden dynamics of our physical world. (iStockphoto.com/nadla)
(March 10, 2016) 'The First Five Years' Points to a Bright Future of High-impact Discovery at LCLS
If you’ve ever stood in a dark room wishing you had a flashlight, then you understand how scientists feel when faced with the mysteries of physical processes that happen at scales that are mind-bogglingly small and fast.
The future of life-changing science – science that will spawn the electronic devices, medications and energy solutions of the future – depends on being able to see atoms and molecules at work.
To do that you need special light – such as X-ray light with a wavelength as small as an atom – that pulses at the rate of femtoseconds. A femtosecond is to a second what a second is to 32 million years. It is the timescale for the basic building blocks of chemistry, biology and materials science.
That’s why, six years ago, the Department of Energy’s SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory answered a bold call by the scientific community: Build a transformative tool for discovery, an X-ray laser so bright and fast it can unravel the hidden dynamics of our physical world.
Since it began operation in 2009, this singularly powerful “microscope” has generated molecular movies, gotten a glimpse of the birth of a chemical bond, traced electrons moving through materials and made 3-D pictures of proteins that are key to drug discovery. Known to scientists as an X-ray free-electron laser (XFEL), SLAC's Linac Coherent Light Source, or LCLS, is a DOE Office of Science User Facility that draws many hundreds of scientists from around the world each year to perform innovative experiments.
The success of LCLS has inspired the spread of such machines all over the world.
The latest issue of Reviews of Modern Physics contains the most comprehensive scientific overview of its accomplishments in a paper entitled, "Linac Coherent Light Source: The First Five Years."
LCLS staff scientists devoted about a year to compiling the collection of reports, says LCLS Director Mike Dunne.