Tabletop X-Ray Laser Could Improve Imaging Resolution by 1000x

February 23, 2010

2 Min Read
Tabletop X-Ray Laser Could Improve Imaging Resolution by 1000x

A team of scientists at JILA, a joint institute of University of Colorado at Boulder (CU) and the National Institute of Standards and Technology (Gaithersburg, MD), are making progress in the development of an ultrafast tabletop x-ray laser. Once realized, the laser could greatly enhance image resolution and eventually allow for superior diagnostic tools."Our goal is to create a laser beam that contains a broad range of x-ray wavelengths all at once that can be focused both in time and space," says CU physics professor Margaret Murnane. "If we have this source of coherent light that spans a huge region of the electromagnetic spectrum, we would be able to make the highest-resolution light-based tabletop microscope in existence that could capture images in 3-D and tell us exactly what we are looking at. We're very close."By employing a femtosecond laser and combining hundreds or thousands of visible photons, the group can generate coherent laser-like x-ray beams, which requires less power than conventional x-ray lasers. Likening their technology to a coherent version of the x-ray tube, the researchers "pluck part of the quantum wave function of an electron from an atom using a very intense laser pulse. The electron is then accelerated and slammed back into the ion, releasing its energy as an x-ray photon. Since the laser field controls the motion of the electron, the x-rays emitted can retain the coherence properties of a laser," according to the press release.If they can extend these beams into the hard x-ray region of the electromagnetic spectrum, the scientists believe that a host of opportunities for medical imaging will be presented. Offering dramatically enhanced resolution quality, which the group predicts could be 1000x better than that of current technologies, would potentially open the door to better patient care. For example, higher resolution could enable imaging of tiny tumors and abnormalities that are too small to be detected using current systems, according to the team.

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