Researchers invent high quality tabletop X-ray device
25 November 2010
Producing tightly focused beams of high energy X-rays to examine everything from molecular structures to the integrity of aircraft wings could become simpler and cheaper, according to new research led by Imperial’s Dr Stefan Kneip (Physics), published on 24 October in Nature Physics.
High power, high quality X-ray sources are typically very large and very expensive. For example, the Diamond Light Source synchrotron facility in Didcot, Oxfordshire, is 0.5km in circumference and cost £263m to build. However, the researchers have demonstrated a tabletop instrument producing synchrotron X-rays, whose energy and quality rival that produced by some of the largest X-ray facilities in the world. Their micro-scale system uses a tiny jet of helium gas and a high power laser to produce an ultrashort pencil-thin beam of high energy and spatially coherent X-rays.
The X-rays produced from the new system have an extremely short pulse length and originate from a small point in space, about one micron across, which results in a narrow X-ray beam that allows researchers to see fine details in their samples. These qualities are not readily available from other X-ray sources and so the researchers’ system could increase access to, or create new opportunities in, advanced X-ray imaging.
“This is a very exciting development,” said Dr Kneip. “We have taken the first steps to making it much easier and cheaper to produce very high energy, high quality X-rays. Although our technique will not now directly compete with the few large X-ray sources around the world, for some applications it will enable important measurements, which have not been possible until now.”
— Laura Gallagher, Communications and Development