Scientists have demonstrated the fastest light pulse ever developed, a 53-attosecond X-ray flash, beating its own record set in 2012.
Researchers at University of Central Florida in the US had developed a 67-attosecond extreme ultraviolet light pulse in 2012 which was the fastest at the time.
At one-quintillionth of a second, an attosecond is unimaginably fast. In 53 attoseconds, light travels less than one-thousandth of the diameter of a human hair.
In the same way high-speed cameras can record slow-motion video of flying bullets, attosecond light pulses allow scientists to capture images of fast-moving electrons in atoms and molecules with unprecedented sharpness.
The pulses demonstrated by the group led by Professor Zenghu Chang are not just shorter in duration, but also in wavelength.
The new light reaches an important spectral region, the so called "water window," where carbon atoms absorb strongly but water does not.
"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.
X-rays interact with the tightly bound electrons in matter and may reveal which electrons move in which atoms, providing another way to study fast processes in materials with chemical element specificity.
That capability is invaluable for the development of next-generation logic and memory chips for mobile phones and computers that are a thousand times faster than those in use today.
The research was published in the journal Nature Communications.
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