A team of researchers from the University of Central Florida has developed a 53-attosecond X-ray flash, the fastest light pulse ever developed. The group, led by Professor Zenghu Chang, beat its own record set in 2012. At that time at 67-attosecond extreme ultraviolet light pulse was the fastest light pulse.
An attosecond is one-quintillionth of a second — that’s fast. In 53 attoseconds, light travels less than one-thousandth of the diameter of a human hair.
Attosecond light pulses allow scientists to capture images of fast-moving electrons in atoms molecules with unprecedented, similar to the way high-speed cameras record slow-motion video of flying bullets.
In his research, Chang has now demonstrated pulses that are shorter in duration and wavelength than ever before. The new light reaches an important spectral region called the “water window” where carbon atoms absorb strongly but water doesn't.
"Such attosecond soft X-rays could be used to shoot slow-motion video of electrons and atoms of biological molecules in living cells to, for instance, improve the efficiency of solar panels by better understanding how photosynthesis works," said Chang, a UCF Trustee Chair Professor in CREOL, The College of Optics & Photonics, and the Department of Physics. Chang is the director of the Institute for the Frontiers of Attosecond Science and Technology (iFAST), located in the Physics Department, where the experiments were carried out.
X-rays interact with tightly bound electrons in the matter and might reveal which electrons move in which atoms, providing another way to study fast processes in materials with chemical element specificity. This capability is invaluable for the development of next-generation logic and memory chips for mobile phones and computers that are much faster than those in use today.
Producing the attosecond X-rays requires a new type of high power driver: a femtosecond laser with a long wavelength.