Science

Laser as bright as a billion Suns alters fundamental physics of light and matter

Laser as bright as a billion S...
The Diocles Laser is the brightest light ever produced on Earth, and it's shedding new light on the fundamental physics of how light and matter interact
The Diocles Laser is the brightest light ever produced on Earth, and it's shedding new light on the fundamental physics of how light and matter interact
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The X-ray pulses created by the Diocles Laser are stronger than current technology, and the researchers used it to image the inside of a USB flash drive
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The X-ray pulses created by the Diocles Laser are stronger than current technology, and the researchers used it to image the inside of a USB flash drive
This diagram shows how the motion of an electron (bottom) affects the color signature of the scattered light (top)
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This diagram shows how the motion of an electron (bottom) affects the color signature of the scattered light (top)
The Diocles Laser is the brightest light ever produced on Earth, and it's shedding new light on the fundamental physics of how light and matter interact
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The Diocles Laser is the brightest light ever produced on Earth, and it's shedding new light on the fundamental physics of how light and matter interact
View gallery - 3 images

Physicists from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln have created the brightest light ever produced on Earth, and it could be the first step towards more powerful X-ray technology. The researchers focused their Diocles Laser to a brightness a billion times that of the surface of the Sun, and found that at that extreme level, the fundamental physics of how light enables vision begin to change.

Normally, when light from the Sun, a lightbulb or any other source strikes the surface of an object, the electrons in the object cause the photons in the light to scatter. Our eyes pick that up to allow us to see the object, but brighter light won't change the object's appearance beyond making it look brighter. When the Diocles Laser is cranked up, however, things start to get a little weird.

The team blasted the laser at electrons suspended in helium, and then measured how single electrons scattered the photons of light that hit them. Electrons are known to scatter just one photon at a time under normal circumstances, but in this experiment almost 1,000 were scattered simultaneously.

"When we have this unimaginably bright light, it turns out that the scattering – this fundamental thing that makes everything visible – fundamentally changes in nature," says Donald Umstadter, lead researcher on the study. "It's as if things appear differently as you turn up the brightness of the light, which is not something you normally would experience. (An object) normally becomes brighter, but otherwise, it looks just like it did with a lower light level. But here, the light is changing (the object's) appearance. The light's coming off at different angles, with different colors, depending on how bright it is."

This diagram shows how the motion of an electron (bottom) affects the color signature of the scattered light (top)
This diagram shows how the motion of an electron (bottom) affects the color signature of the scattered light (top)

The difference is that the brightness of the Diocles Laser seems to have surpassed a previously-unknown threshold. Changing the brightness of a light source doesn't usually change the angle or energy of a photon after it's scattered, but in this case, the light bounces back at a different angle, shape and wavelength, which affects how the object would look to the human eye.

The effect seems to be caused by the fact that the laser light changes the motion of the electrons in the object's atoms: instead of their usual up-and-down motion, the affected electrons zip around in a figure-eight path. Electrons ejecting photons in response to being struck by incoming photons is standard practice, but in this case, the ejected photon absorbs extra energy and becomes an X-ray.

The X-ray pulses created by the Diocles Laser are stronger than current technology, and the researchers used it to image the inside of a USB flash drive
The X-ray pulses created by the Diocles Laser are stronger than current technology, and the researchers used it to image the inside of a USB flash drive

The researchers say this development could improve current X-ray technology. The energized photons could help create high-resolution, 3D images of objects and people at a lower dose, spotting tiny details that current techniques may miss. On a more theoretical level, the powerful laser can help scientists solve some long-standing problems in the lab.

The research was published in the journal Nature Photonics.

Source: University of Nebraska-Lincoln

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6 comments
MitchEwing
Okay, so I get how this could help practical X-ray tech become more accurate and such, but my question is this: In order to apply this principle, won't the device producing the X-ray have to breach that shiny (pun not intended) new energy threshold that they discussed earlier in the article? Cause if your everyday hospital X-ray machine has to generate a beam that is a few orders of magnitude brighter than the sun... how is that feasible? Is there some point I'm missing, where this becomes viable in the real world, where electric bills are a thing and budgets make board members weep? If there isn't, that's totally okay. I mean, the raw science of this discovery is absolutely awesome. Totally worthy of celebration in its own right. But it would behoove us, as a society, to take this discovery and say, "Okay, now that we know this, what does it mean, and how can we save and/or improve lives with it?"
MichaelJ.Weed
My best guess is faulty instrumentation or user measurement. Repeat it on different equipment and a different technician.
JohnOwen
Isn't this similar to what microwaves do to certain molecules (the way the photons are MOVED?) ? This non-scientist wonders....could this COOK your butt?!?!
ColinChambers
Slice a single electron in half What you observe , Will be a formula of angles ,hexagon at it's centre five squares five triangles, this makes a sphere. With a spectrum of thee energy levels . Triangle red, Square yellow – green , hexagon ultraviolet . Your work into this unknown threshold is the boundary of quantum physics into the black-spectrum Illusion of seeing the unreal. Jacktar ..
Nik
Will this cause people to rethink the equations related to the, ''big-bang'' as its more than likely that this situation occurred then?
ColinChambers
The Diocles energy apply to a single atom that has gravity , disrupt The electrons normal orbit around its nuclei , into a figure - eight path, passing between its neutron\proton absorbing extra energy from its Gluon [X-rays], to which you seem to have detected . Greater knowledge and understanding of atoms ,the physics \ gravity\ electrons \ nuclei and it's forces containment of energy release and transfer . You have stepped into the future , this knowledge is essential to know WHY... Jacktar .