A group of scientists has developed a method that significantly improves the already ultrafast time resolution of X-ray free-electron lasers (XFELs). It has the potential to lead to breakthroughs in the design of new materials and more efficient chemical processes.
An X-ray free-electron laser device is a powerful combination of particle accelerator and laser technology that generates extremely bright and ultrashort X-ray pulses for scientific research. Using this technology, scientists can now track processes within millions of billionths of a second (femtoseconds) at atomic scales. The technique allows traditional attosecond streaking spectroscopy to be extended to XFELs worldwide as they approach the attosecond frontier.
Biological sciences have been one of the most promising applications of XFELs. Scientists can capture how biological processes fundamental to life change over time in this research, even before the X-ray radiation from the laser destroys the samples. These X-rays can also shed light on the fastest processes occurring in nature, with a shutter speed of only a femtosecond. Chemical bond formation and dissolution, as well as atom vibrations on thin film surfaces, are examples of such processes.
The researchers believe that self-referenced streaking will significantly impact ultrafast science. The technique allows traditional attosecond streaking spectroscopy to be extended to XFELs worldwide as they approach the attosecond frontier. As a result, self-referenced streaking may enable a new class of experiments that take advantage of the flexibility and extreme intensity of XFELs without sacrificing time resolution.
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