Margaret Murnane, Ph.D.Distinguished Professor, Department of Physics and ECE, University of Colorado Boulder
Simons Foundation Lectures are free public colloquia related to basic science and mathematics. These high-level talks are intended for professors, students, postdocs and business professionals, but interested people from the metropolitan area are welcome as well.
Ever since the invention of the laser more than 50 years ago, scientists have strived to create an X-ray laser. In the same way that visible lasers can concentrate light energy far better than a light bulb, a directed beam of X-rays would have many useful applications in medicine, security screening and the sciences. The X-ray sources currently in use, though, are in essence the same X-ray light bulb source that Wilhelm Röntgen used in 1895. That’s because until recently X-ray lasers required ridiculously high power levels.
Making a practical, tabletop-scale, X-ray laser source requires taking a different approach that transforms a beam of light from a visible femtosecond laser into a beam of directed X-rays. The story behind how this happened is surprising and beautiful, highlighting how powerful our ability is to manipulate nature at a quantum level.
Along the way, we also learned to generate the shortest strobe light in existence — fast enough to capture the fastest attosecond electron dynamics in materials. We also learned how to achieve sub-wavelength spatial resolution at soft X-ray wavelengths for the first time. These new capabilities are already impacting nano and materials science, as well as showing promise for next-generation electronics, data and energy storage devices.