I write news briefs for the Optics & Photonics News website roughly every other week, with some slight schedule variations due to holidays and such. Here’s your invitation to read the last three articles while they’re still online.
Read this article first, because it’s been up there the longest: The folks at JILA (the place that used to be called the Joint Institute for Laboratory Astrophysics) have developed a tabletop-sized device that is a source of coherent X-rays. Coherence, of course, means that the light waves are “marching in step.” The beams that come from the medical X-ray device in your doctor’s or dentist’s office are no more coherent than the light from an incandescent bulb. (I hadn’t realized that before I did this article, but there you have it.)
Also, before this JILA invention, if you wanted an X-ray laser beam, you had to go to a particle accelerator facility. There aren’t too many sufficiently powerful particle accelerators out there, and you can’t exactly fit them into a doctor’s office.
Now, coherent X-ray beams aren’t going to be used in emergency rooms anytime soon. However, they could be extremely useful in studying the ultrafast details of chemical and biological processes, so it might be handy to have one in those kinds of laboratories. You can read more about this device and the scientists who built it in Nature, on Photonics.com and on JILA’s own website.
In the second newsbrief, I wrote about a new type of solar cell made from carbon nanotubes, developed at MIT. These tubes are just tiny bits of rolled-up graphene, which in turn is a two-dimensional lattice of carbon atoms. Both graphene and carbon nanotubes are extremely hot research topics right now, and I have been interested in solar technology for many years, so I enjoyed writing this one. You can see the actual solar-cell material in the photo accompanying this MIT press release, though I think the image looks like not-very-impressive orange mush.
My most recent article took me back to the “world’s fastest camera” that I wrote about three years ago, while I was still a staff writer at OPN. The UCLA team that invented that camera answered the question “What is it good for?” by demonstrating that it can scan blood samples for rogue cancer cells that break off a primary tumor and move through the bloodstream to metastasize elsewhere in the body. Of course, many, many clinical trials will be needed before it can be used on actual cancer patients, but any potential new tool in the battle against cancer makes me hopeful for the future.