Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Super-Fast Flashes Could Help Scientists See Into A Nucleus; Researchers Propose "Lasetron" Tool That Would Light Up The Heart Of An Atom

Date:
May 2, 2002
Source:
Johns Hopkins University
Summary:
By using an ultra-powerful laser to set off energy bursts lasting a tiny fraction of a second, scientists may finally be able to see -- and perhaps control -- what happens in the heart of an atom, its nucleus. This system, which its theorists call a “lasetron,” could also briefly produce a massive magnetic field resembling that of a white dwarf star, opening the door to important new experiments in astrophysics.

By using an ultra-powerful laser to set off energy bursts lasting a tiny fraction of a second, scientists may finally be able to see -- and perhaps control -- what happens in the heart of an atom, its nucleus. This system, which its theorists call a “lasetron,” could also briefly produce a massive magnetic field resembling that of a white dwarf star, opening the door to important new experiments in astrophysics.

A lasetron hasn’t been built yet, but researchers Alexander Kaplan and Peter Shkolnikov proposed the idea and explained how and why the device should work in a recent paper published in “Physical Review Letters.” Kaplan is a professor of electrical and computer engineering at The Johns Hopkins University. Shkolnikov, a former Johns Hopkins researcher, is now affiliated with the State University of New York at Stony Brook.

Since the paper appeared, researchers at centers equipped with very powerful lasers have contacted the authors to express interest in building a lasetron. “This would be a completely new tool for nuclear science,” Kaplan says. “No one has ever seen the processes that occur within the nucleus of an atom. If we can produce very high intensity pulses, we could even control the nuclear reactions. It almost sounds like science fiction, but we might be able to slow down or accelerate nuclear fission. Using electromagnetic forces, we could try to control radioactivity, which no one has been able to do.”

The lasetron tool is expected to produce bursts of light so swift they could illuminate nuclear events the way a camera flash in a dark room can “freeze” a moment of activity. Because nuclear movement takes place so quickly, scientists would need a pulse of light lasting just one zeptosecond to observe them. A zeptosecond is one-billion-trillionth of a second, or 10 (to the minus 21st power) second.

Kaplan and Shkolnikov say such super-fast pulses could be produced by using a circularly polarized petawatt, or 10 (to the 15th power) watt laser, one in which the light beams are set up so that the electric and magnetic fields move in a circular direction. The laser would be fired at a tiny target -- a particle of material or an extremely thin wire. The laser would cause electrons in the target to break free. Some of these electrons would rotate rapidly within the laser light’s electric field. As they spin, the researchers say, each electron would emit a burst of light in the shape of a tight cone. Seen from the edge, these spinning electrons would seem to flash on for a zeptosecond, like a tiny lighthouse. In theory, scientists could use these flashes to see activity in the nucleus of an atom.

When a lasetron sets electrons in motion, the researchers say, it would also create a magnetic field measuring about 1 million tesla, a field far more powerful than anything created on Earth and approaching the level found near white dwarf stars. Such fields would allow astrophysicists to test new theories about extreme conditions near those space objects. “This was a bonus we weren’t expecting,” Kaplan says.

Several hurdles exist before the Kaplan-Shkolnikov theory can be tested in a lab. First, no petawatt lasers, which require enormous amounts of power, exist yet. However, several petawatt lasers are being built in various nations, and some of these devices may be operational by the end of the year. The other key problem is that scientists currently have no means to detect and measure the zeptosecond pulses. The powerful magnetic fields would probably wreak havoc with existing types of detectors.

Nevertheless, within two years Kaplan believes less powerful lasers will be able to use the lasetron concept to produce electromagnetic fields for astrophysics research and possibly for use in advanced scanning devices that require the very short pulses generated by these magnetic fields. It may take quite a while, Kaplan says, before scientists are able to generate and characterize the zeptosecond pulses needed to peer inside a nucleus. “That doesn’t bother me very much,” Kaplan says. “Often, what theorists do is to come up with ambitious ideas and spread the word about them. It’s up to the experimentalists to take it from there.”

Funding for this project was provided by the Air Force Office of Scientific Research.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by Johns Hopkins University. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Cite This Page:

Johns Hopkins University. "Super-Fast Flashes Could Help Scientists See Into A Nucleus; Researchers Propose "Lasetron" Tool That Would Light Up The Heart Of An Atom." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 2 May 2002. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2002/05/020502073650.htm>.
Johns Hopkins University. (2002, May 2). Super-Fast Flashes Could Help Scientists See Into A Nucleus; Researchers Propose "Lasetron" Tool That Would Light Up The Heart Of An Atom. ScienceDaily. Retrieved July 29, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2002/05/020502073650.htm
Johns Hopkins University. "Super-Fast Flashes Could Help Scientists See Into A Nucleus; Researchers Propose "Lasetron" Tool That Would Light Up The Heart Of An Atom." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2002/05/020502073650.htm (accessed July 29, 2014).

Share This




More Matter & Energy News

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Climate Change Could Cost Billions, According To White House

Climate Change Could Cost Billions, According To White House

Newsy (July 29, 2014) A report from the White House warns not curbing greenhouse gas emissions could cost the U.S. billions. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Stranded Whale Watching Boat Returns to Boston

Stranded Whale Watching Boat Returns to Boston

Reuters - US Online Video (July 29, 2014) Passengers stuck overnight on a whale watching boat return safely to Boston. Linda So reports. Video provided by Reuters
Powered by NewsLook.com
Baluchistan Mining Eyes an Uncertain Future

Baluchistan Mining Eyes an Uncertain Future

AFP (July 29, 2014) Coal mining is one of the major industries in Baluchistan but a lack of infrastructure and frequent accidents mean that the area has yet to hit its potential. Duration: 01:58 Video provided by AFP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Easier Nuclear Construction Promises Fall Short

Easier Nuclear Construction Promises Fall Short

AP (July 29, 2014) The U.S. nuclear industry started building its first new plants using prefabricated Lego-like blocks meant to save time and prevent the cost overruns that crippled the sector decades ago. So far, it's not working. (July 29) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:

Breaking News:
from the past week

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile: iPhone Android Web
Follow: Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe: RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins