Xbox, X-rays, and Cutting-edge Optics

Ever imagined that an Xbox controller could help open a window into the nanoworld of groundbreaking physics? Well, check out the video above.

Brookhaven scientist Ray Conley designed that one-of-a-kind machine to grow (through a technique called sputtering deposition) atomically precise lenses that can focus x-rays to within one billionth of one meter, revealing the internal nanoscale structure of materials such as electric vehicle fuel cells.

When tweaking his recipe for these multilayer Laue lenses (MLL), Conley used to have to manually enter commands into a computer to move a crucial transport car along tracks tightly sealed inside a vacuum chamber. This meant walking back and forth between the machine and computer, eating up time and sacrificing precision. Conley asked his assistant to look into getting an industrial joystick, but that  option proved to be too expensive.  So they went the life–hacking videogame route: a wireless Xbox controller.

The controller arrived one morning, and by that afternoon it was already programmed to interface with all of that custom machinery and complex computing. Conley now uses the Xbox controller to move the transport car at variable speeds based upon which analog joystick he uses, control plasma deposition with different buttons, and even get variable rumble feedback to let him know the speed of the transport car as it travels through the sealed chamber.

The completed MLLs will be deployed at Brookhaven Lab's forthcoming National Synchrotron Light Source II, one of the world's most advanced light sources, to address some of the world's most pressing challenges.

Bonus trivia: The massive lens-building machine is nicknamed Megatron and features a Decepticon sticker on its side. During construction, an engineer mistakenly called a magnetron device “megatron,” and the name stuck.

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