The recently upgraded particle accelerator at the DoE’s Stanford Linear Accelerator Center (SLAC) has produced his first x-rays. The Linac Coherent Light Source (LCLS) upgrade, LCLS-II, can emit up to one million X-ray pulses per second (8,000 times more than the original) and a nearly continuous beam 10,000 times brighter than its predecessor. Scientists believe it will enable unprecedented research into “atomic, ultrafast phenomena” and shed new light on quantum computing, communications, clean energy and medicine.
One of the keys to the accelerator’s powerful upgrade is its cooling capabilities. The original LCLS, which went online in 2009, was limited to 120 pulses per second due to the natural limits of how many electrons could simultaneously travel through the accelerator’s room-temperature copper tubes. But the updated version includes 37 cryogenic modules cooled to negative 456 degrees Fahrenheit (colder than outer space), making it possible to “amplify electrons to high energies with almost zero energy loss.” The new accelerator will work in parallel with the existing copper.
SLAC researchers say the new capabilities will allow them to probe details of quantum materials with unprecedented resolution, while enabling new forms of quantum computing and “revealing unpredictable and volatile chemical events” to help advance clean energy technology. In addition, they say, it could help researchers develop new drugs by studying how biological molecules work on an unprecedented scale. Finally, they declared that its unmatched 8,000 flashes per second will “open up entirely new areas of scientific investigation.”
SLAC researchers began envisioning upgrades to the original LCLS in 2010. The project has since gone through $1.1 billion and involved “thousands of scientists, engineers and technicians across DOE, as well as numerous institutional partners.” It required several “groundbreaking components”, including a new electron source, two cryogenics to produce coolant, and two new undulators to generate X-rays from the beam. Several institutions contributed to the effort, including five US national laboratories (Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and Argonne National Laboratory, among others) and Cornell University.
“Experiments in each of these areas are set to begin in the coming weeks and months, attracting thousands of researchers from across the country and around the world,” said LCLS Director Mike Dunne. “DOE user facilities such as LCLS are provided at no cost to users—we select based on the most important and impactful science. LCLS-II is going to drive a revolution across many academic and industrial sectors. I look forward to the onslaught of new ideas – this is the essence of why national laboratories exist.”