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  • richardmitnick 4:08 pm on April 25, 2014 Permalink | Reply
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    From SLAC Lab: “Scientists Watch High-temperature Superconductivity Emerge out of Magnetism” 

    SLAC Lab

    April 24, 2014
    Glennda Chui

    Like Dancers at a Party, Electrons Pair Up a Few at a Time to Effortlessly Conduct Electricity

    Scientists at SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory and Stanford University have shown for the first time how high-temperature superconductivity emerges out of magnetism in an iron pnictide, a class of materials with great potential for making devices that conduct electricity with 100 percent efficiency.

    In experiments at SLAC’s Stanford Synchrotron Radiation Lightsource (SSRL), the team “doped” the material – one of two known types of high-temperature superconductor – by adding or subtracting electrons to enhance its superconducting abilities. Then they used a beam of ultraviolet light to measure changes in the material’s electronic behavior as it was chilled to a temperature where superconductivity becomes possible.

    levityation
    Superconducting materials expel magnetic fields, whose repulsive force can levitate a magnet, as shown here. Nevertheless, studies have shown superconductivity and magnetism can coexist in the same material. Now SLAC and Stanford researchers show that the two phases are interwoven at a very fine, microscopic level in a type of high-temperature superconductor known as an iron pnictide, and reveal how one phase gives way to the other. (Julien Bobroff, Frederic Bouquet and Jeffrey Quilliam/Laboratory of Solid State Physics, LPS, via Wikimedia Commons)

    The researchers saw the two states battle for dominance: At first the electrons in the material all lined up with their spins pointed in specific directions, a hallmark of magnetism. But as the temperature dropped, a few electrons paired up, like dancers at a party, to effortlessly conduct electricity; then a few more; until finally all the active electrons found partners and the material was fully superconducting, a much more complex behavior.

    The results, published April 25 in Nature Communications, are an important step toward understanding how high-temperature superconductors work – information scientists need to realize their dream of engineering superconductors with more useful properties that operate at close to room temperature for a variety of practical applications.

    Complexity Emerges from Simple Ingredients

    “For a while both magnetism and superconductivity co-exist; that’s not a surprise,” said Ming Yi, a graduate student with the Stanford Institute for Materials and Energy Sciences (SIMES) and lead author of the report. “But we wanted to see how just these two phases interact with each other. Now we finally have the high-resolution tools we need to see these changes at a microscopic level, and we find that the same electrons that were participating in the magnetic order have switched over to participate in the superconducting order. These two orders compete for the same electrons.’’

    Comparing their experimental data to the results of simulations, the researchers determined that the magnetism and superconductivity in iron pnictide were interwoven at a very fine, microscopic level, rather than occupying larger, separate puddles within the material. The simulations were led by theorists Lex Kemper of Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, Stanford graduate student Nachum Plonka and SIMES Director Thomas Devereaux.

    “This is a beautiful example of ‘emergence,’ in which simple ingredients give rise to complex behavior,” said co-author Zhi-Xun Shen, a professor at SLAC and Stanford and SLAC’s advisor for science and technology. “Emergence is a major theme of modern research on organizing principles of nature,” he said. “Our hope is that research on quantum systems like this one, which are very simple model systems, will eventually give us insights into such organizing principles.”

    Exploring a Mystery Material

    Discovered in 1986, high-temperature superconductors carry electricity without any loss at much warmer temperatures than conventional superconductors, which have to be chilled to at least 30 kelvins (minus 243 degrees Celsius). Still, scientists have not been able to get high-temperature superconductors to operate above minus 138 degrees Celsius.

    While these materials have the potential to save money and energy in a number of applications, from carrying electricity over long-distance power lines to operating maglev trains, the high cost and logistics of keeping them cold and their difficult-to-handle properties have held them back.

    As in regular superconductors, electrons in high-temperature superconductors form pairs to conduct current. But the mechanism behind this pairing in the high-temperature materials – the “glue” that holds the electrons together – is still unknown, said Donghui Lu, a senior staff scientist at SSRL and one of the principal investigators for the study.

    Another mystery: In theory, superconductivity and magnetism are not supposed to co-exist; the presence of one should drive out the other. But previous studies have shown they can in fact exist in the same material, and scientists have been eager to learn the details of how and why that happens.

    While this study doesn’t answer those burning questions, it does give scientists a closer look at the details of what happens as superconductivity emerges.

    The results may also shed light on the other known family of high-temperature superconductors, the copper-based cuprates, the scientists wrote, and comparing results from the two may lead to “an eventual understanding of the mechanism of unconventional superconductivity.”

    In addition to SLAC and SIMES, which is a joint SLAC/Stanford institute, researchers from Stanford University, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, Nanjing University, and the University of California-Berkeley contributed to this work. Some measurements were carried out at Berkeley Lab’s Advanced Light Source. The work at Stanford, SLAC and the Advanced Light Source was funded by the U.S. Department of Energy Office of Science.

    See the full article here.

    SLAC Campus
    SLAC is a multi-program laboratory exploring frontier questions in photon science, astrophysics, particle physics and accelerator research. Located in Menlo Park, California, SLAC is operated by Stanford University for the DOE’s Office of Science.
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  • richardmitnick 12:53 pm on March 20, 2014 Permalink | Reply
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    From SLAC Lab: “Scientists Discover Potential Way to Make Graphene Superconducting” 

    March 20, 2014
    Press Office Contact:
    Andy Freeberg, afreeberg@slac.stanford.edu, (650) 926-4359

    Scientist Contact:
    Shuolong Yang, syang2@stanford.edu, (650) 725-0440

    Scientists at the Department of Energy’s SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory and Stanford University have discovered a potential way to make graphene – a single layer of carbon atoms with great promise for future electronics – superconducting, a state in which it would carry electricity with 100 percent efficiency.

    graph

    Researchers used a beam of intense ultraviolet light to look deep into the electronic structure of a material made of alternating layers of graphene and calcium. While it’s been known for nearly a decade that this combined material is superconducting, the new study offers the first compelling evidence that the graphene layers are instrumental in this process, a discovery that could transform the engineering of materials for nanoscale electronic devices.

    “Our work points to a pathway to make graphene superconducting – something the scientific community has dreamed about for a long time, but failed to achieve,” said Shuolong Yang, a graduate student at the Stanford Institute of Materials and Energy Sciences (SIMES) who led the research at SLAC’s Stanford Synchrotron Radiation Lightsource (SSRL).

    ssrl
    Stanford University / SLAC professor Zhi Xun Shen with a spectrometer at Stanford Synchrotron Radiation Lightsource (SSRL) Beamline 5-4.

    The researchers saw how electrons scatter back and forth between graphene and calcium, interact with natural vibrations in the material’s atomic structure and pair up to conduct electricity without resistance. They reported their findings March 20 in Nature Communications.

    Graphite Meets Calcium

    Graphene, a single layer of carbon atoms arranged in a honeycomb pattern, is the thinnest and strongest known material and a great conductor of electricity, among other remarkable properties. Scientists hope to eventually use it to make very fast transistors, sensors and even transparent electrodes.

    The classic way to make graphene is by peeling atomically thin sheets from a block of graphite, a form of pure carbon that’s familiar as the lead in pencils. But scientists can also isolate these carbon sheets by chemically interweaving graphite with crystals of pure calcium. The result, known as calcium intercalated graphite or CaC6, consists of alternating one-atom-thick layers of graphene and calcium.

    The discovery that CaC6 is superconducting set off a wave of excitement: Did this mean graphene could add superconductivity to its list of accomplishments? But in nearly a decade of trying, researchers were unable to tell whether CaC6’s superconductivity came from the calcium layer, the graphene layer or both.

    Observing Superconducting Electrons

    For this study, samples of CaC6 were made at University College London and brought to SSRL for analysis.

    “These are extremely difficult experiments,” said Patrick Kirchmann, a staff scientist at SLAC and SIMES. But the purity of the sample combined with the high quality of the ultraviolet light beam allowed them to see deep into the material and distinguish what the electrons in each layer were doing, he said, revealing details of their behavior that had not been seen before.

    “With this technique, we can show for the first time how the electrons living on the graphene planes actually superconduct,” said SIMES graduate student Jonathan Sobota, who carried out the experiments with Yang. “The calcium layer also makes crucial contributions. Finally we think we understand the superconducting mechanism in this material.”

    Although applications of superconducting graphene are speculative and far in the future, the scientists said, they could include ultra-high frequency analog transistors, nanoscale sensors and electromechanical devices and quantum computing devices.

    The research team was supervised by Zhi-Xun Shen, a professor at SLAC and Stanford and SLAC’s advisor for science and technology, and included other researchers from SLAC, Stanford, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and University College London. The work was supported by the DOE’s Office of Science, the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council of UK and the Stanford Graduate Fellowship program.

    SLAC is a multi-program laboratory exploring frontier questions in photon science, astrophysics, particle physics and accelerator research. Located in Menlo Park, Calif., SLAC is operated by Stanford University for the U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Science.

    The Stanford Institute for Materials and Energy Sciences (SIMES) is a joint institute of SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory and Stanford University. SIMES studies the nature, properties and synthesis of complex and novel materials in the effort to create clean, renewable energy technologies. For more information, visit simes.slac.stanford.edu.

    SLAC’s Stanford Synchrotron Radiation Lightsource (SSRL) is a third-generation light source producing extremely bright X-rays for basic and applied science. A DOE national user facility, SSRL attracts and supports scientists from around the world who use its state-of-the-art capabilities to make discoveries that benefit society. For more information, visit ssrl.slac.stanford.edu.

    DOE’s Office of Science is the single largest supporter of basic research in the physical sciences in the United States, and is working to address some of the most pressing challenges of our time. For more information, visit science.energy.gov.

    See the full article here.

    SLAC Campus
    SLAC is a multi-program laboratory exploring frontier questions in photon science, astrophysics, particle physics and accelerator research. Located in Menlo Park, California, SLAC is operated by Stanford University for the DOE’s Office of Science.
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  • richardmitnick 5:15 pm on February 16, 2014 Permalink | Reply
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    From SLAC: “New ‘Pomegranate-inspired’ Design Solves Problems for Lithium-Ion Batteries” 

    February 16, 2014
    No Writer Credit

    An electrode designed like a pomegranate – with silicon nanoparticles clustered like seeds in a tough carbon rind – overcomes several remaining obstacles to using silicon for a new generation of lithium-ion batteries, say its inventors at Stanford University and the Department of Energy’s SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory.

    nano
    Transmission electron microscopy(a, b, and c) images of prepared mesoporous silica nanoparticles with mean outer diameter: (a) 20nm, (b) 45nm, and (c) 80nm. Scanning electron microscope(d) image corresponding to (b). The insets are a high magnification of mesoporous silica particle.

    “While a couple of challenges remain, this design brings us closer to using silicon anodes in smaller, lighter and more powerful batteries for products like cell phones, tablets and electric cars,” said Yi Cui, an associate professor at Stanford and SLAC who led the research, reported today in Nature Nanotechnology.

    “Experiments showed our pomegranate-inspired anode operates at 97 percent capacity even after 1,000 cycles of charging and discharging, which puts it well within the desired range for commercial operation.”

    The anode, or negative electrode, is where energy is stored when a battery charges. Silicon anodes could store 10 times more charge than the graphite anodes in today’s rechargeable lithium-ion batteries, but they also have major drawbacks: The brittle silicon swells and falls apart during battery charging, and it reacts with the battery’s electrolyte to form gunk that coats the anode and degrades its performance.

    Over the past eight years, Cui’s team has tackled the breakage problem by using silicon nanowires or nanoparticles that are too small to break into even smaller bits and encasing the nanoparticles in carbon yolk shells that give them room to swell and shrink during charging.

    The new study builds on that work. Graduate student Nian Liu and postdoctoral researcher Zhenda Lu used a microemulsion technique common in the oil, paint and cosmetic industries to gather silicon yolk shells into clusters, and coated each cluster with a second, thicker layer of carbon. These carbon rinds hold the pomegranate clusters together and provide a sturdy highway for electrical currents.

    And since each pomegranate cluster has just one-tenth the surface area of the individual particles inside it, a much smaller area is exposed to the electrolyte, thereby reducing the amount of gunk that forms to a manageable level.

    Although the clusters are too small to see individually, together they form a fine black powder that can be used to coat a piece of foil and form an anode. Lab tests showed that pomegranate anodes worked well when made in the thickness required for commercial battery performance.

    While these experiments show the technique works, Cui said, the team will have to solve two more problems to make it viable on a commercial scale: They need to simplify the process and find a cheaper source of silicon nanoparticles. One possible source is rice husks: They’re unfit for human food, produced by the millions of tons and 20 percent silicon dioxide by weight. According to Liu, they could be transformed into pure silicon nanoparticles relatively easily, as his team recently described in Scientific Reports.

    “To me it’s very exciting to see how much progress we’ve made in the last seven or eight years,” Cui said, “and how we have solved the problems one by one.”

    The research team also included Jie Zhao, Matthew T. McDowell, Hyun-Wook Lee and Wenting Zhao of Stanford. Cui is a member of the Stanford Institute for Materials and Energy Sciences [SIMES], a joint SLAC/Stanford institute. The research was funded by the DOE Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy.

    See the full article here.

    SLAC Campus
    SLAC is a multi-program laboratory exploring frontier questions in photon science, astrophysics, particle physics and accelerator research. Located in Menlo Park, California, SLAC is operated by Stanford University for the DOE’s Office of Science.
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  • richardmitnick 10:36 am on June 17, 2013 Permalink | Reply
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    From SLAC Lab: “SLAC/Stanford Scientists Make First Direct Images of Topological Insulator’s Edge Currents” 

    June 17, 2013
    Mike Ross

    “Researchers at a SLAC/Stanford institute have made the first direct images of electrical currents flowing along the edges of a topological insulator – a recently discovered state of matter with potential applications in information technology.

    grid
    This graphic depicts the tiny loop of a scanning SQUID, or superconducting quantum interference device (silver), which detects magnetic fields (red) created by an edge current (blue) in a topological insulator. (Greg Stewart)

    In these strange solid-state materials, currents flow only along the edges of a sample while avoiding the interior. Using an exquisitely sensitive detector they built, scientists from the Stanford Institute for Materials and Energy Sciences (SIMES) were able to sense the weak magnetic fields generated by the edge currents and tell exactly where the currents were flowing.

    ‘Now no one can doubt that they exist,’ said Kathryn A. “Kam” Moler, the SIMES and Stanford University physics professor who led the research, which was published Sunday in Nature Materials.

    The scientists surveyed a tiny rectangular piece of mercury telluride, a semiconductor that becomes a topological insulator when cooled to nearly absolute zero in the presence of an electric field.

    Post-doctoral researcher Katja Nowack and graduate student Eric Spanton, first and second authors on the team’s research report, scanned the sample surface with a SQUID, or superconducting quantum interference device – a microscope for detecting magnetic fields. The team’s custom-made SQUID was 100 million times more sensitive to magnetic moments than the best commercial version.”

    See the full article here.

    SLAC is a multi-program laboratory exploring frontier questions in photon science, astrophysics, particle physics and accelerator research. Located in Menlo Park, California, SLAC is operated by Stanford University for the DOE’s Office of Science.

    SLAC Campus


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  • richardmitnick 9:33 am on March 20, 2013 Permalink | Reply
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    From SLAC: “X-ray Laser Explores How to Write Data with Light” 

    March 19, 2013
    Glenn Roberts Jr.

    “Using laser light to read and write magnetic data by quickly flipping tiny magnetic domains could help keep pace with the demand for faster computing devices.

    chamber
    A look inside the RCI sample chamber while researchers close up the chamber for vacuum for an experiment at LCLS. (Credit: Diling Zhu/SLAC)

    Now experiments with SLAC’s Linac Coherent Light Source (LCLS) X-ray laser have given scientists their first detailed look at how light controls the first trillionth of a second of this process, known as all-optical magnetic switching.

    The experiments show that the optically induced switching of the magnetic regions begins much faster than conventional switching and proceeds in a more complex way than scientists had thought – a level of detail long sought by the data storage industry, which is eager to learn more about the key drivers of optical switching. The new insight could help guide efforts to engineer materials that better control and speed this process.

    group
    Group photo of researchers who participated in an all-optical magnetic switching experiment at the Linac Coherent Light Source. (Credit: SLAC)

    image

    ‘This is really one of the first examples of new materials science that can be done with LCLS, which allows you to look at very short time scales and very small length scales,’ said Hermann Dürr, a staff scientist for the Stanford Institute for Materials and Energy Sciences (SIMES) and a principal investigator of the multinational team that performed the experiment, detailed in the March 17 issue of Nature Materials. SIMES is a joint institute of SLAC and Stanford.”

    See the full article here.

    SLAC Campus
    SLAC is a multi-program laboratory exploring frontier questions in photon science, astrophysics, particle physics and accelerator research. Located in Menlo Park, California, SLAC is operated by Stanford University for the DOE’s Office of Science.
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  • richardmitnick 7:04 pm on March 19, 2013 Permalink | Reply
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    From SLAC: “Materials Scientists Make Solar Energy Chip 100 Times More Efficient” 

    March 19, 2013
    Mike Ross

    “Scientists working at the Stanford Institute for Materials and Energy Sciences (SIMES) have improved an innovative solar-energy device to be about 100 times more efficient than its previous design in converting the sun’s light and heat into electricity.

    ‘This is a major step toward making practical devices based on our technique for harnessing both the light and heat energy provided by the sun,’ said Nicholas Melosh, associate professor of materials science and engineering at Stanford and a researcher with SIMES, a joint SLAC/Stanford institute.

    two
    Nick Melosh (left), associate professor of materials science and engineering at Stanford and a researcher with SIMES, and graduate student Jared Schwede. (Credit: Brad Plummer / SLAC)

    The new device is based on the photon-enhanced thermionic emission (PETE) process first demonstrated in 2010 by a group led by Melosh and SIMES colleague Zhi-Xun Shen, who is SLAC’s advisor for science and technology. In a report last week in Nature Communications, the group described how they improved the device’s efficiency from a few hundredths of a percent to nearly 2 percent, and said they expect to achieve at least another 10-fold gain in the future.”

    chip
    Part of a 2-inch-diameter gallium-arsenide wafer used as a base for photon-enhanced thermionic emission chips. (Credit: Brad Plummer / SLAC)

    This is exciting news for Clean Energy. See the full article here.

    SLAC Campus
    SLAC is a multi-program laboratory exploring frontier questions in photon science, astrophysics, particle physics and accelerator research. Located in Menlo Park, California, SLAC is operated by Stanford University for the DOE’s Office of Science.
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  • richardmitnick 11:14 am on July 20, 2012 Permalink | Reply
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    From SLAC Today: “Phrase of the Week: Thermionic Emission” 

    July 20, 2012
    Mike Ross

    If you heat materials to a high enough temperature, some of their electrons will gain enough kinetic energy to literally boil off the surface and into the air or vacuum beyond. Since net motion of electrons constitutes an electrical current, this phenomena, called thermionic emission, is one of the seven basic methods for producing electricity.

    image
    (Image courtesy tpub.com)

    Thermionic emission is at the heart of a new approach to solar energy harvesting pioneered by Stanford Institute of Materials and Energy Sciences [SIMES] researchers that promises unprecedented efficiency by taking advantage of the improved performances of thermionic and thermal processes at high temperatures.”

    See the full article here.

    SLAC is a multi-program laboratory exploring frontier questions in photon science, astrophysics, particle physics and accelerator research. Located in Menlo Park, California, SLAC is operated by Stanford University for the DOE’s Office of Science.
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  • richardmitnick 12:34 pm on May 16, 2012 Permalink | Reply
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    From SLAC Today: “X-ray Laser Uncovers Secrets of Complex Oxide Material” 

    May 16, 2012
    Mike Ross

    “An international team of researchers has used SLAC’s Linac Coherent Light Source (LCLS) to discover never-before-seen behavior by electrons in complex materials with extraordinary properties.

    The result is an important step forward in the investigation of so-called strongly correlated materials, whose unusual qualities and futuristic applications stem from the collective behavior of their electrons. By understanding how these materials work, scientists hope to ultimately design novel materials that, for instance, conduct electricity with absolutely no resistance at room temperature, dramatically improving the performance and efficiency of energy transmission and electronic devices.

    In a report published yesterday in Nature Communications, researchers led by SLAC Chief Scientist Zhi-Xun Shen and Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory Scientist Zahid Hussain describe experiments at the LCLS with a material called striped nickelate.

    It gets its name from the pattern of alternating stripes of enhanced charge and spin that its electrons collectively assume under certain conditions. This pattern constitutes a new quantum state, and it provides a model system that scientists can use to learn about electron correlations and their impact on the properties of materials.

    The researchers hit the material with a pulse from an infrared laser, and then used an exceedingly intense, brief flash of X-ray laser light from LCLS – just a few millionths of a billionth of a second long – to record what happened.

    The initial pulse jarred the nickelate out of its striped state. By varying the interval between the two pulses, the researchers created images that showed how the charge stripes reemerged. They were surprised to find that variations in the locations of minimum and maximum charge, controlled by a quantity called phase, persisted long after the stripes’ charge distribution returned to its original magnitude.

    ‘These phase fluctuations are very important for understanding how these materials behave,’ said Wei-Sheng Lee, a SLAC physicist and lead author on the research. ‘But until now, they have been impossible to discern directly. Being able to see this electron behavior represents a new era in materials science research.'”

    image
    This diagram shows alternating stripes of charges and spins that self-organize in a particular nickel oxide at sufficiently low temperatures. This pattern constitutes a new quantum state, and it… (Image by Wei-Sheng Lee)

    See the full article here.

    SLAC is a multi-program laboratory exploring frontier questions in photon science, astrophysics, particle physics and accelerator research. Located in Menlo Park, California, SLAC is operated by Stanford University for the DOE’s Office of Science.
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  • richardmitnick 1:52 pm on March 21, 2012 Permalink | Reply
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    From SLAC Today: “Taking the Jitter Out of X-ray Imaging at LCLS” 

    March 21, 2012
    David Reffkin

    “Two papers published on March 19 show it’s possible to significantly correct the “jitter” in X-ray laser experiments at SLAC’s Linac Coherent Light Source (LCLS), opening up important new possibilities for seeing ultrafast, atomic-scale changes in materials.

    Jitter refers to slight variations in the time it takes for an LCLS X-ray pulse to arrive at a sample. This variation can lead to lack of clarity in the processed data, much as a photo is blurred by a fast-moving subject. In experiments that seek to understand the dynamics of electrons on very short time scales, these discrepancies can make that all but impossible.

    One major class of experiments at the LCLS uses an optical laser to “pump” a sample – by setting off a reaction within it, for example – followed by ultra-short X-ray beam pulses to ”probe” the sample’s properties. By repeating this process again and again, with slightly different time lags between the two pulses, researchers can create a highly defined record of how the properties of the target material change in response to the initial laser pulse.

    ‘Knowing the exact time between the laser and X-ray pulses allows us to not only take crisp snapshots of the electrons, atoms and molecules, but also string these images together to create movies revealing the dynamics of molecular action,’ said SLAC scientist Sebastian Schorb.”

    men
    Four researchers who worked to significantly reduce the jitter in the LCLS X-ray laser beam. From left: LCLS user Martin Beye, who at the time was a postdoctoral researcher with Helmholtz-Zentrum Berlin and SLAC’s SIMES institute; AMO instrument scientist Christoph Bostedt; SXR instrument scientist Bill Schlotter; and Sebastian Schorb, a PhD student working with the AMO. Photo by Matt Beardsley

    See the full article here.

    SLAC is a multi-program laboratory exploring frontier questions in photon science, astrophysics, particle physics and accelerator research. Located in Menlo Park, California, SLAC is operated by Stanford University for the DOE’s Office of Science. i1

     
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