Using a compact but powerful laser, a research team at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln created a new way to generate synchrotron X-rays.
Researchers say the device could lead to advanced applications in many fields, including high definition security scanning, earlier tumour identification, or the study of extremely fast reactions that occur too rapidly for observation with conventional X-rays.
Although the high quality of synchrotron X-rays make them ideal for research ranging from the structure of matter to advanced medical images, access to the technology has been limited until now.
Most traditional synchrotron X-ray devices are gigantic and costly, available only at a few sites around the world.
"Our hope is that this new technology will lead to applications that benefit both science and society," said Nathan Powers, first author of the journal article.
Physics professor Donald Umstadter, director of the Extreme Light Laboratory, who led the research project compared the synchrotron X-ray breakthrough to the development of personal computers, giving more people access to computing power once available only via large and costly mainframe computers.
Shrinking components of advanced laser-based technology will increase the feasibility of producing high-quality X-rays in medical and university research laboratories, which in turn could lead to new applications for the X-rays.
Because the new X-ray device could be small enough to fit in a hospital or on a truck, it could lead to more widespread applications for advanced X-ray technology, scientists said.
New applications might include detecting nuclear materials concealed within a shielded container; doctors finding cancerous tumours at earlier stages; or scientists studying extremely fast reactions that occur too rapidly for observation with conventional X-rays.
The study was published in the journal Nature Photonics.