Exploring New Realms of Science and TechnologyThere are exiting things that can be done with a powerful x-ray laser like SwissFEL. With its peak x-ray power at 10 Gigawatt, you can produce and study the interior of hot and dense plasmas which properties are similar to those at the heart of planets or stars. But there are also the down-to-earth applications that can have an impact on our daily life. One of those involves miniaturization in electronics. Further shrinking the components inside laptops and mobile phones will involve entering the nanoworld. Nanometer size magnets will be needed to implement ever smaller magnetic storage devices while increasing their operational speeds to a perceivable extent will carry us into the realm of the ultrafast. Peering into phenomena as fast as some femtoseconds occurring at the nanometer scale will be a privilege reserved to an ultrafast camera-nanoscope like SwissFEL. With pulses as short as 20 femtoseconds and wavelengths of 0.1 nanometers, the SwissFEL eye will be both swift and sharp enough to see the femtosecond switching of nanomagnets.
In chemistry, for instance, which deals with the reactivity of molecules due to their geometrical and electronic structure at the nanoscale, ultrafast processes still remain virtually unexplored. How does the poisonous carbon monoxide is converted into less harmful carbon dioxide on a nanometer size platinum plate? How does the magnetic state of an iron atom in a protein can affect its ability to bind oxygen and deliver it to distant tissue? For decades, scientist have been unable to find answers to such questions. SwissFEL can now be of help in their inquiries.
One key feature of SwissFEL will be its extraordinary brightness. Brightness or brilliance is defined by scientists as the number of photons per second passing through a given cross section area and within a given narrow solid angle and spectral bandwidth. A high brightness means thus high intensity combined with tight focusing and spectral purity. The brightness of X-FELs will surpass that of the most advanced synchrotron light sources by 12 orders of magnitude (one thousand billions times more), which is a huge leap when one considers that synchrotrons themselves are also 12 orders of magnitude more brilliant than laboratory scale x-ray sources.
History of the peak brilliance of X-ray sources
This significant increase in brightness will make it possible to image the structure of proteins forming the membrane of cells. These proteins are a natural target for drugs and a better understanding of their structure will be decisive for fighting as yet incurable diseases. It is very hard to grow large 3-dimensional crystals of membrane proteins as their natural habitat, the cell membrane is intrinsically 2-dimensional. Without large crystals it is on the other hand almost impossible to get pictures of anything with synchrotron light. With the superior brilliance of SwissFEL, however, the requirement of growing large crystals will be removed and cell membrane proteins will reveal its long held secrets.