Monday 23 October 2017

Bright idea: scientists' super laser puts sun in the shade

Handout photo issued by the University of Nebraska-Lincoln of a scientist at work in the Extreme Light Laboratory at the university, where physicists generated the brightest light ever produced on Earth. Photo: University of Nebraska-Lincoln/PA
Handout photo issued by the University of Nebraska-Lincoln of a scientist at work in the Extreme Light Laboratory at the university, where physicists generated the brightest light ever produced on Earth. Photo: University of Nebraska-Lincoln/PA

John von Radowitz

A laser has produced the most dazzling light ever made on Earth - one billion times brighter than the surface of the sun.

The extreme brightness sparked a phenomenon never seen before - unique X-rays that could be used for super-sensitive medical scans and security systems.

Scientists at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln in the US fired an ultra high-intensity laser at electrons suspended in helium.

The aim was to study how photons from the laser scattered from single electrons. It is the scattering of light from a surface that makes vision possible.

But in this case the high number of scattered photons, almost 1,000 at a time, produced results that turned nature on its head.

Professor Donald Umstadter, from the university's extreme light laboratory, said: "It's as if things appear differently as you turn up the brightness of light, which is not something you normally would experience."

One effect was the creation of X-rays with unique properties, said the scientists writing in the journal 'Nature Photonics'.

They could form the basis of low-dose but highly sensitive 3D X-ray scans for tracking down elusive tumours.

Another potential application was the detection of increasingly sophisticated threats at security checkpoints.

Irish Independent

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