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Scientists worldwide are using powerful X-rays to probe materials in order to understand them better. Recently, SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory has fired the first X-rays using the upgraded LCLS X-ray free-electron laser (XFEL) called LCLS-II. The original LCLS, first operated in 2009, was the world’s first XFEL.

According to Interesting Engineering, the first LCLS accelerated electrons through a room-temperature copper pipe, limiting it to 120 X-ray pulses per second. The LCLS-II is 8,000 times faster as it can generate nearly a million X-ray flashes per second, which are more powerful than anything seen before.

So how does it work? What gives the LCLS-II its enhanced capabilities is the superconducting accelerator built to fire the X-rays. It consists of 37 modules that can cool down helium to -271 degrees Celsius, which is just above absolute zero. These extreme temperatures allow the accelerator to increase electrons to high energy states with nearly zero energy losses.

In addition to a new electron source, the LCLS-II has also added two new undulators that can generate X-rays from the electron beams, which produce low- and high-energy X-rays that allow researchers to carry out their experiments with much higher precision and the option to probe deeper.

The LCLS had a major part in helping scientists better understand plant life, and how different materials and minerals form. The new and improved LCLS-II now sets out to tackle challenges previously deemed unreachable. Researchers will now be able to study quantum materials in greater detail, paving the way for building more efficient quantum devices, computers, and ultra-fast data processing, according to the press release.

The LCLS-II will also enable researchers to capture snapshots of chemical reactions at an atomic scale, thus helping design more efficient processes in industries like chemical production and energy generation and helping reduce greenhouse gases.