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Scientists film droplets getting blown up by X-rays

"These studies could help us better understand a wide range of phenomena in X-ray science and other applications," said researcher Claudiu Stan.

By
Brooks Hays

MENLO PARK, Calif., May 24 (UPI) -- Researchers recently filmed the world's brightest X-ray laser, the Linac Coherent Light Source, vaporizing liquid droplets and jets -- a first.

The experiments took place at the Department of Energy's SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory, where scientists use lasers to image and study some of the smallest and fastest chemical, biological and physical processes.

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"Understanding the dynamics of these explosions will allow us to avoid their unwanted effects on samples," Claudiu Stan, a researcher with the Stanford PULSE Institute, said in a news release.

The Stanford PULSE Institute is a joint research venture by Stanford University and SLAC aimed at advancing research into ultrafast scientific processes.

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"It could also help us find new ways of using explosions caused by X-rays to trigger changes in samples and study matter under extreme conditions," added Stan. "These studies could help us better understand a wide range of phenomena in X-ray science and other applications."

Liquids are an ideal vehicle for introducing biological and chemical samples to lasers. But as the latest videos reveal, the same lasers that provide intricate measurements can also obliterate a liquid droplet in a fraction of a second. Fortunately, the laser captures most of the necessary information before the samples are vaporized.

In their latest experiments, researchers introduced liquid droplets to laser pulses and recorded images. The researchers strung together these fractional images to create movies.

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"Thanks to a special imaging system developed for this purpose, we were able to record these movies for the first time," explained S├ębastien Boutet, an LCLS research scientist. "We used an ultrafast optical laser like a strobe light to illuminate the explosion, and made images with a high-resolution microscope that is suitable for use in the vacuum chamber where the X-rays hit the samples."

The latest imagery helped scientist build models that describe the explosive behavior in terms of pulse energy, drop size and jet diameter -- information they can use to more carefully deploy laser pulses in future experiments.

Researchers detailed their recent experiments in a new paper, published this week in the journal Nature Physics.

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