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Science Technology

Physicists Have Created the Brightest Light Ever Recorded (vice.com) 96

Jason Koebler writes: A group of physicists at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln's Extreme Light Laboratory announced Monday that they have created the brightest light ever produced on Earth using Diocles, one of the most powerful lasers in the United States. When this high intensity laser pulse, which is one billion times brighter than the surface of the sun, strikes the electron, it causes it to behave differently. By firing this laser at individual electrons, the researchers found that past a certain threshold, the brightness of light will actually change an object's appearance rather than simply making it brighter. The x-rays that are produced in this fashion have an extremely high amount of energy, and Umstadter and his colleagues think this could end up being applied in a number of ways. For starters, it could allow doctors to produce x-ray medical images on the nanoscale, which would allow them to detect tumors and other anomalies that regular x-rays might have missed. Moreover, it could also be used for more sophisticated x-ray scanning at airports and other security checkpoints.
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Physicists Have Created the Brightest Light Ever Recorded

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  • Finally! (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Z80a ( 971949 ) on Tuesday June 27, 2017 @03:16AM (#54696687)

    Now it is possible to play the original gameboy advance!

  • A minor detail... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by phozz bare ( 720522 ) on Tuesday June 27, 2017 @03:30AM (#54696727)

    it could allow doctors to produce x-ray medical images on the nanoscale

    However, researchers are still trying to overcome the slight technical difficulty of the patient being vaporized in the process.

    • One of two things happens.
      1) the flesh between the imager and the molecules a few microns deep in the tissue will distort the wavefront rendering it non-bright (i.e. focusable) or
      2) you jack up the power to compensate for the lost bightness and varporize the flesh.

      Already, non-high brightness laser imaging of breast tissues and such are at the flesh burn limit so you can't actually use a more powerful laser. And there's no practical way to prevent the distortion from occuring.

      Ergo the claim is rubbish.

      You

      • by Anonymous Coward

        Er, they're talking about X-ray imaging, not laser imaging. The high brightness laser causes electrons to emit X-rays, and it's those X-rays that are of interest. The electrons absorb multiple photons from the laser and emit a single X-ray photon which combines their energy, so the X-ray beam is not nearly as bright as the laser beam.

        Ergo, your rubbishing of their claim is rubbish. I mean even if you didn't RTFA they talk about X-rays in the summary.

    • However, researchers are still trying to overcome the slight technical difficulty of the patient being vaporized in the process.

      That's why it will make an excellent airport security detector. It's guaranteed not to let any bomb or potential terrorist get past it.

    • Look on the bright side... (pun intended) Now you won't be screened by stupid TSA agents, but by particle physicists.
    • by doug141 ( 863552 )

      Tissue sample? Removed from the patient?

    • Vaporized or burnt?
  • by wierd_w ( 1375923 ) on Tuesday June 27, 2017 @03:31AM (#54696735)

    I seem to remember something about this kind of thing about 8 years or so ago, where the schwinger limit was postulated to be unreachable due to self-interactions of the beam...

    https://arxiv.org/pdf/1007.430... [arxiv.org]

    and that due to these self-interactions, there was a theoretical fixed limit to photon flux in vacuum before the limit that would cause vacuum decay.

    Did this work somehow exceed that prior work?

    • by Moblaster ( 521614 ) on Tuesday June 27, 2017 @03:41AM (#54696759)
      In this experiment they are basically jamming up the valence shells with photon wavepacket energy - the valence shells do not have time to "discharge" the energy before getting hit again, so they get overloaded in a sense. The output photons combine the energies of the input photons allowing for various harmonic (double, triple etc) frequency (i.e. energy) of the incoming photons. Basically if you consider normal decay times for re-emission under normal (not-so-bright light flux conditions), if you can fire photons at an atom faster than the average decay (normal re-emission) time, you'll start to get these energy-combining effects. The "appearance" changes because the normal preservation of angular momentum in the output re-emission is also altered (along with the output energy) because it must be preserved as well, so you don't get re-emission at the regular angle anymore.
      • by dbraden ( 214956 )

        Thank you for that description.

      • In this experiment they are basically jamming up the valence shells with photon wavepacket energy - the valence shells do not have time to "discharge" the energy before getting hit again, so they get overloaded in a sense.

        I don't know enough physics to tell if that's a really great "layman's terms" explanation, or if it's Star Trek bullshit.

      • by esonik ( 222874 )

        What you describe is almost right. Yes, laser photons scatter with electrons to generate x-ray photons, but the process is Compton scattering, not harmonics generation. The electrons are laser wakefield-accelerated (i.e. free) electrons of about 55 MeV kinetic energy (yes, capital M) , not valence electrons.
        Compton scattering analog would be playing billiard with electrons an photons: You can transfer energy from electrons to photons. In this case you take a fat high-energy (moving) electron and hit that wi

    • by esonik ( 222874 )

      Your prior work is theory. This work is experimental. And no, it doesn't reach Schwinger limit - they don't even try since they don't focus the entire primary laser pulse into one spot. Moreover, UNL's Diocles laser has "only" 100TW peak power, more than a factor 10 below today's state-of-the-art.
      The goal here was to generate short intense x-ray pulses with (relatively) narrow spectral bandwidth.

      Your theory article cites the ELI project as one that would be capable of (maybe) generating intensities four ord

  • by blibbo ( 928752 )
    "In nature, an individual electron interacts with an individual photon pretty infrequently—about every four months, according to Umstadter."

    That seems massively lacking in context to me.

    Surely an electron within a carbon atom in a lump of coal 10m underground interacts a different amount to an electron within a carbon atom on a rock in the sun in the desert, and perhaps different to an electron in a transparent oxygen molecule high in the air.

    Can someone explain it better?
    • by Altrag ( 195300 )

      Probably small differences, but remember that the EM force is mediated by light, so even underground the electrons are constantly absorbing and firing off photons among themselves.

      That said, yes the enormous amount of photons being shot at us from the sun almost certainly means that an electron on the surface is going to be hit more often than one underground. I'm not entirely sure how much more often (ie: I don't know the natural rate of emission and absorption between electrons just sitting in a lump und

  • by Trogre ( 513942 ) on Tuesday June 27, 2017 @05:56AM (#54697033) Homepage

    Pretty sure the blue LED on the front of my stereo is brighter.

  • by djinn6 ( 1868030 ) on Tuesday June 27, 2017 @06:18AM (#54697065)
    How does this laser compare to some of the brightest objects in the universe, such as gamma ray bursts and quasars?
  • by Anonymous Coward

    Physicists Have Created the Brightest Light Ever Recorded

    ...and the best thing they can think to do with it is airport security screening?

  • First use (Score:5, Funny)

    by joncombe ( 623734 ) on Tuesday June 27, 2017 @08:19AM (#54697467) Homepage
    Will be for BMW headlights. They seem to like to fit blindingly bright headlights. Yes it's great if it helps the BMW driver see but not so good if the drivers coming the other way can't see anything.
    • Will be for BMW headlights. They seem to like to fit blindingly bright headlights. Yes it's great if it helps the BMW driver see but not so good if the drivers coming the other way can't see anything.

      When you're the blinded driver, just aim for the bright spot. At least you know it's somewhere on the road, and the BMW driver can see well enough to maneuver around you.

    • by eam3 ( 962365 )
      The HID lights on my BMW adjust their level as soon as I start the car. The HID lights on my old Acura TL did not. When I had the Acura I constantly got hit with the high beams from oncoming drivers if I had even one person sitting in back. In over 10 years it has not happened once with my BMW.
      • The HID lights on my BMW adjust their level as soon as I start the car. The HID lights on my old Acura TL did not. When I had the Acura I constantly got hit with the high beams from oncoming drivers if I had even one person sitting in back. In over 10 years it has not happened once with my BMW.

        Probably because the HIDs in your Acura were mis-aligned... My old Murano had HIDs which could be adjusted up and down using a wheel switch. Never had anyone flash me when I drove it.

  • Yay new tech, let's sell it to DHS so they can put another scanner in the airports!

    In other news, it seems people with tumors prefer United Airlines over any other airline.

  • So, what does 'brightest' mean?

    More photons? Wow. I recall discussion of how to propel spacecraft with light. The Sun does indeed exert pressure on objects. Makes sense that at some point the 'light' you shine, if enough photons, may have interesting effects on it.

    I'm assuming 'bright' doesn't mean anything to do with spectrum, or frequency, or such. That didn't make sense to me...But bright white light is often defined by color temperature, or spectrum. So...

  • No cat will resist this new generation of laser pointers.

  • Vice is hardly the place to go for coherent explanations, so -- other than apparently being able to cause a buttload (that's the Official Physics Term) of photons to be absorbed by one electron, how is this different from the more or less everyday 2- or 3- photon absorption process in things like passive Q-switch materials?
    The only way an electron can emit an X-ray is by dropping from a very energetic orbital down to a very weak one. The only way that electron gets bumped up that high is either by absorb

    • by esonik ( 222874 )

      TFA warps facts beyond recognition. You need to read the Arxiv preprint article (linked in another post) to figure out what's actually going on:

      There are two processes: Electrons are accelerated to relativistic energies (50-300 MeV, variable) by laser wakefield acceleration using most of the laser beam. Google that - there lots of interesting material.

      The other part of the laser beam is sent around the other way and hits those high energy electrons more-or-less head on and they undergo a Compton scattering

  • ... all the rednecks with lifted trucks who cram HID bulbs into stock headlight housings and then proceed to add a bright-as-the-sun LED light bar on their grill had already accomplished that. It never fails to see these bro trucks driving around in perfect weather blinding everyone in sight.
  • When this high intensity laser pulse, which is one billion times brighter than the surface of the sun, strikes the electron, it causes it to behave differently.

    Obvious overflow bug in the electron. It's behaviour is only defined between 0 - 99999999.

  • Link to preprint: http://www.unl.edu/diocles/Com... [unl.edu]

    Diocles laser homepage: http://www.unl.edu/diocles/dio... [unl.edu]

  • Sounds like using a toaster to electrocute yourself in a bathtub.
    You would think there would be a better application for that.

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