A team of scientists has developed a method that dramatically improves the already ultrafast time resolution achievable with X-ray free-electron lasers (XFELs). It could lead to breakthroughs on how to design new materials and more efficient chemical processes.
An X-ray free-electron lasers device is a powerful combination of particle accelerator and laser technology producing extremely brilliant and ultrashort pulses of X-rays for scientific research. With this technology, scientists can now track processes that occur within millions of a billionth of a second (femtoseconds) at sizes down to the atomic scale. Essentially, the technique enables traditional attosecond streaking spectroscopy to be extended to XFELs worldwide as they approach the attosecond frontier.
One of the most promising applications of XFELs has been in the biological sciences. In such research, scientists can capture how biological processes fundamental to life change over time, even before the radiation from the laser’s X-rays destroys the samples. In physics and chemistry, these X-rays can also shed light on the fastest processes occurring in nature with a shutter speed lasting only a femtosecond. Such processes include the making and breaking of chemical bonds and the vibrations of atoms on thin film surfaces.