Two-colour double X-ray laser pulses generated for the first time

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A team working at the Sacla X-ray Free-Electron Laser (XFEL) facility in Japan has reported in December’s issue of Nature Communications the ability to generate ultra-bright, two-colour X-ray laser pulses in the hard X-ray region for the first time. These light pulses with different wavelengths, whose time separation can be adjusted with attosecond accuracy, are powerful tools to investigate the structure of matter and the dynamics of ultrafast physical processes and chemical reactions.

Sacla is one of two facilities in the world to offer XFEL as light source to investigate matter, with various applications in biology, chemistry, physics and materials science. XFELs have the capacity to deliver radiation ten billion times brighter and with pulses one thousand times shorter than available synchrotron X-ray radiation sources. Until now, XFELs have normally emitted one radiation pulse at a single wavelength like conventional visible lasers.

The Japanese team led by Dr Toru Hara of the Riken Spring-8 Center, also in Japan, reported in the journal Nature Communications that they have succeeded in creating double X-ray pulses with tunable wavelengths that can be relatively separated by more than 30 per cent. This was achieved using variable-gap undulators, that act as a radiator and whose resonant wavelength can be largely varied by changing the magnetic field strength.

‘The relative separation we have achieved is ten times bigger than what had been achieved in the past, and will make two-colour lasers much easier to use as a light source,’ explained Hara. ‘In addition, the two-colour pulses can be emitted on different axes to spatially separate them. Our achievement significantly ameliorates the usability of XFEL,’ explains Dr Hara.               

The laser pulses, that last for less than 10 femtoseconds (10-15s) and have peak powers of a few giga-watts, can be generated with time intervals adjusted with attosecond (10-16s) precision.

‘This will enable us to elucidate X-ray-induced ultrafast transitions of electronic states and structures, which will significantly contribute to the advancement of ultrafast chemistry, plasma physics and astrophysics, and X-ray quantum optics,’ the authors concluded.