An anonymous reader quotes a report from The Guardian: The world’s most powerful X-ray laser has begun operating at a facility where scientists will attempt to recreate the conditions deep inside the sun and produce film-like sequences of viruses and cells. The machine, called the European X-ray Free Electron Laser (XFEL), acts as a high-speed camera that can capture images of individual atoms in a few millionths of a billionth of a second. Unlike a conventional camera, though, everything imaged by the X-ray laser is obliterated — its beam is 100 times more intense than if all the sunlight hitting the Earth’s surface were focused onto a single thumbnail. The facility near Hamburg, housed in a series of tunnels up to 38 meters underground, will allow scientists to explore the architecture of viruses and cells, create jittery films of chemical reactions as they unfold and replicate conditions deep within stars and planets.
XFEL is the world’s third major X-ray laser facility — projects in Japan and the U.S. have already spawned major advances in structural biology and materials science. The European beam is more powerful, but most significantly has a far higher pulse rate than either of its predecessors. “They can send 100 pulses out per second, we can send 27,000,” said Robert Feidenhan’l, chairman of the European XFEL management board. This matters because to study chemical reactions or biological processes, the X-ray strobe is used to capture flickering snapshots of the same system at different time-points that can be stitched together into a film sequence.
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