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Tabletop X-Rays Light Up

from Nature News

The pressurized, cylindrical chamber fits in the palm of Margaret Murnane's hand. Yet out of one end of the device comes an X-ray beam that packs almost as much punch as the light generated by massive particle accelerators.

Murnane and Henry Kapteyn, both physicists at JILA in Boulder, Colorado, a joint institute of the University of Colorado and the US National Institute of Standards and Technology, have reported the first tabletop source of ultra-short, laser-like pulses of low energy, or 'soft', X-rays.

The light, capable of probing the structure and dynamics of molecules, was previously available only at large, billion-dollar national facilities such as synchrotrons or free-electron lasers, where competition for use of the equipment is fierce. But the report by Murnane, Kapteyn and their colleagues, published in the 8 June issue of Science, suggests that the devices might soon lie within the grasp of a university laboratory budget. "For us, it's incredible that we can do this at all in a tabletop system," says Murnane. "Three years ago, people would have said 'only large facilities can do that'."

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