Movie directors with extra roles

Data storage devices based on novel materials are expected to make it possible to record information in a smaller space, at higher speed, and with greater energy efficiency than ever before.

Movies shot with the X-ray laser show what happens inside potential new storage media, as well as how the processes by which the material switches between two states can be optimised.
Henrik Lemke comes to work on his bicycle. Private cars are not allowed to drive to the SwissFEL building in the Würenlingen forest, and delivery vans and lorries need a permit. As a beamline scientist, the physicist is responsible for the experiment station named for Switzerland’s Bernina Pass. At the end of 2017, he led the first experiment at the Swiss free-electron X-ray laser, acting in effect as a movie director while SwissFEL was used, like a high-speed camera, to record how a material was selectively converted from a semiconducting to a conducting state – and back again. To this end the PSI team, together with a research group from the University of Rennes in France, studied a powder of nanocrystals made of titanium pentoxide. The sample was illuminated with infrared laser pulses that made the substance change its properties. Then X-ray pulses revealed how the crystal structure was deformed and enlarged – a cascade of dynamic processes that evidently depend on the size of the crystals.

Image: The directors: Henrik Lemke and Gerhard Ingold
Credit: Scanderbeg Sauer Photography