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Curated by RSF Research Staff

“Bright as a Billion Suns,” New Laser Alters Matter

The brightest light ever produced on Earth was created by Physicists at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Their Diocles Laser was focused to a brightness a billion times that of the surface of the Sun, producing a new movement of electrons in the matter it struck, which scattered a X-rays.

The laser was blasted at helium, and then the scattering of electrons suspended in the gas was measured. Usually only one photon at a time would be scattered from a material as visible light strikes it, a common phenomenon that allows us to see objects and other forms of matter when light is shone on them. However, in this case nearly 1000 electrons were scattered simultaneously.

The brightness of a laser doesn't usually change the angle or energy of a photon during the scattering, but in this case, the angle, shape, and wavelength were modified, changing how any object hit with the laser would be perceived to the human eye. Electrons affected by the brightness of the Diocles Laser move in a figure-eight pattern instead of the usual "up and down" bounce, ejecting extra energy and releasing X-rays.

In this diagram, the motion of electrons (bottom) are illustrated in the way they affect the color signature of the scattered light (top). The extreme brightness of the Diocles Laser alters matter in the way light is scatter (right).

"When we have this unimaginably bright light, it turns out that the scattering – this fundamental thing that makes everything visible – fundamentally changes in nature. It's as if things appear differently as you turn up the brightness of the light, which is not something you normally would experience. (An object) normally becomes brighter, but otherwise, it looks just like it did with a lower light level. But here, the light is changing (the object's) appearance. The light's coming off at different angles, with different colors, depending on how bright it is."

- Donald Umstadter, lead researcher on the study

This development could vastly improve current X-ray technology, as shown in the photo above. The researchers used it to image the inside of a USB flash drive at high resolution (Image Credit: Extreme Light Laboratory at University of Nebraska-Lincoln).

This research was published in Nature Photonics. Image credits to University of Nebraska-Lincoln.

Adam Apollo, Faculty
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