Lights, Action

South to the SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory where I used to spend my time. Express purpose is to visit the Linac Coherent Light Source LCLS. This amazing piece of kit is the world’s first Xray laser.

With  “conventional” xray beams you can see very small stuff but what you get is a still shot. Wonderful, but what you really want is a movie. A picture of a ballerina doesn’t teach you that much about dancing. A movie does.  Atomic  and molecular movements –  life’s processes at the tiniest scale- are really quick.  You need  fast shutter speeds to capture it.  A movie camera shoots 24 frames a second –  no good. The LCLS will shoot a quadrillion frames a second – good.  Er, what is a quadrillion ?  Time steps in molecular dynamics are around a femtosecond. A femtosecond is  a quadrillionth of a second, that is ten to the minus fifteen of a second.  Er, a femtosecond is to a second what a second is to 31.7 million years.  The LCLS ‘shutter speed’ coincides with the speed of the molecular movement that drives every aspect of human life. Coming to your theatre soon – The Meaning of Life. But I mean like really the meaning of life.


Movie camera

Brad shows me around. Thanks Brad. I left SLAC just as the installation was starting. Big thrill to see it finished and ready to run. LCLS was on time, in budget and it works. Yay SLAC!

This is the undulator hall for LCLS. Sensual name for stark space

The LCLS is the first of its kind in the world, galaxy, universe etc. It has just started up and I am a-tremble to see what results  will come out. I have always loved movies.

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1 Response to Lights, Action

  1. Mike Taylor says:

    Thanks for the no doubt simplified explanation of a quadrillion. I shall now die less stupid. Ah, the meaning of life…

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