Scientists demonstrate unparalleled phase control of free-electron laser pulses

Double flashes with attosecond precision

Thanks to a smart mirror scientists can control the phase of X-rays from DESY’s free-electron laser FLASH with attosecond precision. The feat enables new investigations of the interactions of light and matter, as the team headed by DESY scientist Tim Laarmann reports in the journal Nature Communications. An attosecond is a billionth of a billionth of a second. The phase indicates at which point in its rapid oscillation a light wave is at a given point in time or space. Phase-sensitive measurements are important to gain insight of light-matter interactions and require phase-controlled pulses. Although phase control is an established technique in optics, the soft X-rays generated by FLASH oscillate a hundred times faster than visible light, requiring a hundred times better precision.

The scientists have now demonstrated phase control and interferometric autocorrelation at FLASH using pulse pairs created with a smart split-and-delay unit. The successful transfer of a powerful optical method towards short wavelengths paves the way towards utilization of advanced nonlinear methodologies even at partially coherent free-electron lasers that rely on self-amplified spontaneous emission (SASE). Free-electron lasers (FEL) are driven by powerful particle accelerators and produce laser-like light pulses by sending bunches of fast electrons through a magnetic slalom course.

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