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The US Department of Energy’s SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory is preparing to power the world’s most powerful X-ray free-electron laser called “the Linac Coherent Light Source II (LCLS-II)”, which works by having electrons fly through a new superconducting accelerator.

The lead scientist at SLAC Dan Gonnella said: “Seeing electrons make it all the way through the LCLS-II is proof that our idea to make the source for an extremely powerful superconducting X-ray machine at SLAC is going to work.”

This ambitious project took over a decade of work and saw the collaboration of four national laboratories: Argonne, Berkeley Lab, Fermilab, and Jefferson Lab.

According to Interesting Engineering, the laboratory explained in a press release: “LCLS-II will produce X-rays that are 10,000 times brighter than those of SLACs existing free-electron laser facility, LCLS – a historic upgrade that will open previously unimaginable views into some of the most pressing scientific questions of our time. The facility will release one million X-ray flashes per second, far more than LCLS’s current rate of 120 flashes per second.”

This new laser will have various uses, including harvesting solar energy for a new generation of clean fuels, inventing sustainable manufacturing methods for industry, and designing a new generation of drugs based on the ability to create molecular movies of how our bodies respond to disease.

The biggest hurdle of this 10-year high-tech project was unexpectedly- dust. Throughout the decade it took for the project to be built, the team had to work hard to keep the facility pristine and free of dust, since it can swiftly destroy the performance of the superconducting cavities.

Another crucial goal for the team is to ensure the high quality of the electron beam. John Schmerge, director of SLAC’s Accelerator Directorate explains- “If you have a nice tight electron beam you get better X-ray production, whereas if the electron beam is all spread out, you don’t get very many photons at the end of the tunnel.”

In preparation to power the laser for the first time, SLAC scientist Axel Brachman said that producing a high-energy electron beam gives the team a sense that everything is working as they had hoped for, and added that “The powerful beam is a glimpse of light at the end of our project’s long tunnel.”