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There are many types of lasers out there on the market. There are laser pointers that come in a verity of colors, there are laser light projectors used in concerts and even sharks with (freeken) lasers on their head (OK, maybe that last one isn't for sale). Earlier this week two research groups in Japan announced they amped up another type of laser radiation. Though this type of laser light will not be on the general market, it will be important for science in the long run.
Before we get into the specific type of laser light that the Japanese research companies improved upon, I want to quickly talk about laser light in general. Laser is actually an acronym. It stands for light amplification though the simulated emission of radiation. In the most simple case a gas exists in a chamber that is capped by two mirrors (the front one is not fully silvered). The gas is simulated by and electric charge and the outer shell electrons gas go into an excited state. As the electrons fall back into the ground state they release light which is all coherent. The light bounces around between the mirrors and in the process gets amplified but other electrons releasing their light.
That is a basic gas laser. There are also other types of lasers. There are solid lasers and also the type of laser that we are going to talk about today: the XFEL. XFEL stands for x-ray free electron laser and it produces laser light when electrons are accelerated to extremely high speeds and than suddenly decelerated. XFEL radiation can be very bright and it can be used to image minute structures and processes.
The smaller the wavelength of the laser the better it is at imaging structures and the more projects it can be used in. This is where the Japanese laboratory RIKEN and the Japan Synchrotron Radiation Research Institute come in. Those two labs have successfully reduced the low end of the wavelength of the traditional XFEL laser from 0.15nm to 0.12nm. The leader of the project, Tanaka Hitoshi, says that the laser can be used in everything from making new medicines to nanotechnology. He also says he wants to get the wavelength down to 0.06nm.
|The XFEL laboratory: Sakura|