X-ray laser under development to visualise atomic structures

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A research facility being built at the SPring-8 radiation facility in Hyogo Prefecture, Japan, will use X-ray laser technology to visualise the atomic structure of proteins and other nano-scale structures. The X-ray Free Electron Laser (XFEL) facility, a joint project between RIKEN (Japan's large natural sciences research institute) and the Japan Synchrotron Radiation Research Institute (JASRI), is due for completion in 2011 and will produce light a billion times brighter than the current SPring-8 synchrotron (which produces X-rays ten billion times brighter than the sun).

The XFEL facility will produce X-ray wavelengths of less than 0.1nm (roughly the size of an atom) and will be used to help see structures at the scale of atoms and electrons. This is expected to advance research in a variety of scientific fields including biology and nano technology, making it the most promising light source for the next generation of scientific exploration and discovery.

e2v thyratrons will power XFEL, while e2v imaging sensors will measure the results. The CCDs will be detecting the X-rays scattered by the scientific samples in the XFEL beam. From these scattered X-rays scientists will be able to 'see' the atomic structure of proteins and other nano-scale structures. e2v is carrying out a custom CCD design for the XFEL. The CCD and CCD package design will enable a 100 x 100mm X-ray sensitive focal plane with a 50µm pixel resolution to be constructed. The CCDs will readout at 60fps to capture the 2–12keV X-rays scattered from the beam.

Ewan Livingstone, general manager of medical and high power RF at e2v, said: 'I am delighted that e2v has been chosen for critical tasks at both ends of the XFEL machine. It is testament to the high quality of design and manufacture that e2v strives for in meeting and exceeding the requirements of the world's most demanding applications.'