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Shark Hardware Science

X-ray Generator Fits In the Palm of Your Hand 32

ananyo writes "Scientists have reported the first tabletop source of ultra-short, laser-like pulses of low energy, or 'soft,' X-rays. The light, capable of probing the structure and dynamics of molecules (abstract), was previously available only at large, billion-dollar national facilities such as synchrotrons or free-electron lasers, where competition for use of the equipment is fierce. The new device, by husband-and-wife team Margaret Murnane and Henry Kapteyn based at JILA in Boulder, Colorado, might soon lie within the grasp of a university laboratory budget — perhaps allowing them to one day be as common in labs as electron microscopes are."
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X-ray Generator Fits In the Palm of Your Hand

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  • How time flies (Score:5, Insightful)

    by overshoot ( 39700 ) on Saturday June 09, 2012 @08:44AM (#40267945)

    perhaps allowing them to one day be as common in labs as electron microscopes are.

    And back in my day, electron microscopes were big-ticket gear that only a few big labs could afford.
    Now, get off of my lawn!

    • Unlocking the Proteome is the next big challenge beyond the genome. With instruments like this, it will make the task of X-ray crystallography determination of protein structures much easier. It's through the analysis of protein structures that we'll eventually be able to connect the genome to physical traits. The Phenome?

      • Re:Proteome (Score:4, Informative)

        by the gnat ( 153162 ) on Saturday June 09, 2012 @10:29AM (#40268487)

        With instruments like this, it will make the task of X-ray crystallography determination of protein structures much easier.

        No, it won't. Two reasons:

        1) You need "hard" X-rays for crystallography - with a wavelength similar to the chemical bond length. The maximum resolution you can achieve is equivalent to half the wavelength, and even that requires a complicated detector setup, so in practice you want a wavelength around 1 Å for crystallography. The wavelength of this device is 8Å, which is fine for spectroscopy and small-angle scattering studies, but useless for crystallography. While I suspect the technology could be made to work at shorter wavelengths, this usually involves tradeoffs such as higher cost, higher energy consumption, etc.

        2) The intensity of the source is far less than a synchrotron (let alone a free-electron laser). This means that data collection times will take far longer. At a synchrotron beamline, in favorable conditions, you can collect an entire data set in seconds (of course, the detector alone costs more than $1 million). Usually it's not quite that fast, but you don't need to wait days for your data - and you can hedge your bets by collecting data on as many crystals as possible.

        A secondary reason is that the improvement in synchrotron beamline technology has also made them more accessible - much of the work is now done remotely using robotic sample changers. Being able to grow decent crystals in the first place is a far more limiting factor. And my impression is that beamtime isn't terribly difficult to get; people do still use home X-ray sources while they're waiting for beamtime, but most people are content to wait for the synchrotron to get the truly publishable data.

        • Re:Proteome (Score:4, Insightful)

          by Naffer ( 720686 ) on Saturday June 09, 2012 @10:51AM (#40268629) Journal
          Not to mention that home X-ray sources have improved dramatically over the last few decades. I think if you've got enough cash Rigaku or Bruker will sell you single or dual wavelength rotating anode sources that would be totally fine for routine protein x-ray crystallography on nicely diffracting samples. Not all protein crystallography needs a synchrotron, since a lot of times people are just doing ligand soaks to try to find small molecule binding modes in protein active sites.
      • This is a fully coherent laser -- not just an X-ray source. So, you would not be scattering photons the way crystallography is done -- you would be taking holographic photos of the protein molecules.
        And yes, these are soft X-rays now -- but this is and brand new technique, and it appears to be very scaleable. Hard X-rays might not be too far off.

    • You can get a used transmission or scanning EM for between 20K and 100k - the latter being 5 year old top of the line units. If I could get it past my wife, I'd likely get a cheap scanning EM.

      No particular valid use, I'd just use it to take neat pictures.

      But I dont think I'll try. I have enough problems trying to upgrade my camera bodies.

    • Re:How time flies (Score:4, Interesting)

      by ChumpusRex2003 ( 726306 ) on Saturday June 09, 2012 @10:34AM (#40268519)

      Nowadays, people install electron microscopes in their living rooms for use as educational kids' toys. See youtube for examples []

  • I don`t want the generator in the palm of my hand! I want it imbedded in the sunglasses on my head!

    Of, course, the DHS/TSA will have dibs on the first batch.

    • I don`t want the generator in the palm of my hand! I want it imbedded in the sunglasses on my head!

      Of, course, the DHS/TSA will have dibs on the first batch.

      And since this starts with lasers, the sharks will want upgrades.

  • So just how common are electron microscopes these days? I don't work in the sciences so in my head they're still room sized beasts that I read about as a child in the 1980s. I haven't really thought about it until now but I suppose the technology must have improved, like technology does. Are there desktop sized ones now that can be had for relatively low cost?

    • Do a quick search for 'used electron microscopes. They have gotten somewhat smaller, but since much of the hardware is vacuum pumps and high voltage gear, they haven't shrunk to iPad size. They have dropped to a point where they would easily be affordable by a Communiy College.

      Of course, the price comes up a bit when you figure in all of the support gear - specimen prep, high voltage power, service contracts and somebody that knows how to use it.

    • by c0lo ( 1497653 )
      Google for:
      Hitachi TM 3000
      Phenom G2 SEM

      Prices around 40-50k... postpone buying a new bmw and get one of those instead.

    • People do scanning microscopes at their undergrad, but transmission ones are more expensive and harder to make.

  • So, could this be used for the next step in chip fabrication?

  • by joe_frisch ( 1366229 ) on Saturday June 09, 2012 @10:58AM (#40268669)

    This is a very good experiment, but this is far from being competition for the large X-ray facilities. They are generating 10^5 photons in a 1% bandwidth at 1 KeV. The LCLS (X-ray Free Electron Laser at SLAC) generates about 10^13 photons in a ~0.3% bandwidth. (100 million times more) and operates at 6 X the repetition rate. The LCLS can also operate up to 10 KeV with the same pulse energy if needed. Near future facilities like the Euro XFEL will operate at 100X the average power of LCLS.

    The very wide bandwidth of the harmonic generation described in the paper is very interesting because it can in principal support very short (few attosecond) bunches for future experiments, however at the moment they seem to be operating with 80 femtosecond bunches (or bunch trains), comparable to the FELs. (LCLS can run as short as a few femtoseconds with 10^12 photons). It is not clear how to compress their very broad band pulses to generate short pulses, though it is in principal possible. The minimum pulse length for FELs is likely to be around 100-200 attoseconds, so the harmonic generation scheme may eventually have a large advantage here.

    It really is excellent work and a low power, ultra-short pulse tabletop X-ray source is a very valuable research tool, but I just want to point out that at the moment it is not a substitute for large X-ray facilities.

    Josef Frisch

  • by paiute ( 550198 ) on Saturday June 09, 2012 @11:22AM (#40268833)
    I had to send it back. It uses way too much tape. []
  • Been waiting for those x-ray glasses since I was a kid...

  • I once mentioned shielding to a X-ray laser physicist who was talking about his high energy X-ray laser. "Aren't you worried about shielding?". The reply "O no our X-rays don't go that far in air."

    That's when I realized that laser physicists have a slightly different interpretation of high-energy than most radiation physicists. I only consider high energy X-rays those at 100 keV+.

    Sort of killing the buzz here but if you read the paper and maybe look at figure 2B you will see why this technique (high-har

When speculation has done its worst, two plus two still equals four. -- S. Johnson