Researchers have developed a new method of creating laser beams which they believe may pave the way for practical laser X-rays:
Most of today’s X-ray lasers require so much power that they rely on fusion laser facilities the size of football stadiums, making their use impractical.
“We’ve come up with a good end run around the requirement for a monstrous power source,” research Henry Kapteyn said.
Once this hurdle is overcome, the researchers say, a small, inexpensive X-ray laser becomes practical. Instead of shadowy, fuzzy X-ray images, X-rays could become incredibly precise — perhaps even at the nano-scale. I don’t know much about lasers, so I’m wondering if readers (or fellow ScienceBloggers — Chad? Rob?) could help me out with answers to a few questions:
1. It looks like the research here just describes the principle; there’s no working prototype. How long does it generally take for this sort of research to be applied?
2. My understanding is that a laser isn’t necessarily more intense than other light sources — it’s just that the light waves are better synchronized. So is it possible that a lower intensity light source could be used for laser X-rays than traditional X-rays, thus making them safer? Or would the opposite be true — would laser X-rays have to be higher-intensity, and less safe than the traditional variety?
3. X-rays work in real time, right? So we could have not only very high-res images, but also movies. Could it be possible, then, that what we have here might be something like the holy grail of neuroscience — a device that could measure brain activity both at high resolution and in real time?
4. On the other hand, even at this resolution, maybe the device would still not be able to measure brain activity. After all, we’re talking about things happening at the molecular level. Perhaps the X-ray laser still couldn’t “see” individual neurons firing. Or is there some way people could be prepared in advance — perhaps by swallowing or being injected with some type of marker visible by X-rays?
In any case, the device looks to have important applications, especially in the detection of very small tumors. I look forward to seeing the images produced by the first working laser X-rays.