Linac Coherent Light Source
This photograph shows the interior of a Linac Coherent Light Source SXR experimental chamber, set up for an investigation to create and measure a form of extreme, 2-million-degree matter known as “hot, dense matter.” Oxford University

Scientists from the Oxford University in the UK and the U.S. Department of Energy's (DOE) SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory have invented a powerful X-ray laser - the Linac Coherent Light Source (LCLS). This laser will allow, for the first time, the heating of matter up to 2 million degrees Celsius, in a controlled setting.

The researchers tested the laser on a piece of aluminum foil and created hot dense matter (or a solid plasma). The process of heating took less than a trillionth of a second.

According to the scientists, this represents a major step forward in understanding the composition of the more extreme forms of matter found in stars and giant planets; this could also help in experiments aimed at recreating the nuclear fusion process that powers the Sun.

"The LCLS X-ray laser is a truly remarkable machine," said Sam Vinko, a postdoctoral researcher at Oxford University, "Making extremely hot, dense matter is important scientifically if we are ultimately to understand the conditions that exist inside stars and at the center of giant planets within our own solar system and beyond."

"The LCLS, with its ultra-short wavelengths of X-ray laser light, is the first that can penetrate a dense solid and create a uniform patch of plasma - in this case a cube one-thousandth of a centimeter on a side - and probe it at the same time," said Bob Nagler from the SLAC.

"Those 60 hours when we first aimed the LCLS at a solid were the most exciting 60 hours of my entire scientific career," said Justin Wark, also from Oxford, "LCLS is really going to revolutionize the field, in my view."