Free Electron Lasers (FELs) are opening up new avenues of scientific research
They have a huge potential to tackle global challenges – from drug development to the production of hydrogen fuels. Through FELs we can look at things at the atomic scale with unprecedented speed.
(The Compact Linear Accelerator for Research and Applications (CLARA) facility at STFC’s Daresbury Laboratory. Credit: STFC)
What is a Free Electron Laser (FEL)?
Like other lasers, FELs produce light. To do this, they use electrons driven by a particle accelerator to incredibly high speeds. The electrons are then passed through a series of magnets, which makes them bunch together in such a way that induces them to emit ultra-short, ultrabright bursts of light. This light can then be aimed at a target within a sample station (or in the case of large research facilities, several sample stations). The interaction between the light and the sample is captured using a detector.
What can you do with FELs?
There are lots of things that FELs can be used to investigate. They can look at things that are really small and at processes that happen really quickly. One example of a problem that FELs could help us solve is using sunlight to produce fuel. Plants use sunlight to produce sugar from carbon dioxide and water in a process called photosynthesis. During one of the steps in this process, hydrogen is created. A better understanding of how plants do this would open up the possibility of using sunlight to produce hydrogen for fuel – and this understanding is something that FELs could provide.
Find out what else you can do with FELs by reading the full article in the Autumn issue of Fascination, pages 18-19.