SLAC’s National Accelerator Laboratory is already home to the world’s brightest X-ray laser—but it’s getting an upgrade. The $1 billion project will see the device become 10,000 times brighter and 8,000 times faster.


The X-ray laser will eventually throw out up to a million pulses per second. That will allow it to probe the the atomic world in unprecedented detail—analyzing, for instance, how bonds form, the way in which reactions take place or the movement of electrical charge.

The facility will be built alongside the existing X-ray laser. But instead of creating laser pulses by accelerating electrons down copper pipe, it will push them through niobium metal cavities held at minus 456 degrees Fahrenheit. That process creates “an almost continuous X-ray laser beam with pulses that are 10,000 times brighter, on average, than those of [the original laser] and arrive up to a million times per second,” according to SLAC.

“[It]will take X-ray science to the next level, opening the door to a whole new range of studies of the ultrafast and ultrasmall,” explained SLAC’s Mike Dunne in a press release. “This will tremendously advance our ability to develop transformative technologies of the future, including novel electronics, life-saving drugs and innovative energy solutions.”