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University of Colorado students produce ultrahigh harmonics from a tabletop laser system


A group of students and researchers, including two Integrative Graduate Education and Research Training (IGERT) students from the University of Colorado, demonstrated the production of bright supercontinuum light from a table-top laser system. The scientists, lead by University of Colorado Professors and IGERT faculty Margaret Murnane and Henry Kapteyn, showed that by guiding a mid-infrared femtosecond laser in a high-pressure gas, ultrahigh harmonics can be generated, up to orders greater than 5000. The bright superconitnuum light produced spans the entire electromagnetic spectrum from the ultraviolet to more than 1.6 kilo–electron volts, allowing, in principle, the generation of pulses as short as 2.5 attoseconds.

The work, performed among others by Paul Arpin and Susannah Brown, students of the IGERT program in Computational Optical Sensing and Imaging, has been published in Science and featured in the science section of many media outlets, such as BBC, CNN and Los Angeles Times. Until recently, the only light sources capable of producing such broad spectrum were the size of football stadium. Having a system that can fit in an optical table not only reduces the size of the source many orders of magnitude, but also the costs involved. One of the impacts of this development is to improve the access to this light sources. According to Prof. Murnane “because X-ray wavelengths are 1,000 times shorter than visible light and they penetrate materials, these coherent X-ray beams promise revolutionary new capabilities,” facilitating a way to achieve super high-resolution imaging.

Address Goals

The system developed in this work extends the limits of what can be done inside a laboratory. Having a table-top laser source that spans the entire electromagnetic spectrum from the ultraviolet to more than 1.6 kilo–electron volts and that may support the production of light pulses as short as 2.5 attoseconds, increases many times the availabilty of this kind of radiation. This provides scientists in many critical areas of knowledge, such as material and biomedical sciences, a much easier access to this enabling tool, favoring the advancement of the Nation’s research infraestructure with this new and more affordable tool.