Manipulating nature with X-ray lasers is topic of Oct. 18 lecture

Ever since the invention of the laser more than 50 years ago, scientists have been striving to create an X-ray version. But until recently, very high power levels were needed to make an X-ray laser. Making a practical, tabletop-scale X-ray laser source required taking a new approach, as will be described by physicist Margaret Murnane in this fall’s Hans Bethe Lecture.

Her talk, “Harnessing Quantum Light Science for Tabletop X-Ray Lasers, With Applications in Nanoscience and Nanotechnology,” will be given Oct. 18 at 7:30 p.m. in Schwartz Auditorium, Rockefeller Hall. It is free and open to all; a reception will follow.

“The story behind how [X-ray lasers] happened is surprising and beautiful, highlighting how powerful our ability is to manipulate nature at a quantum level,” says Murnane. These new capabilities are already impacting nano and materials science, as well as showing promise for next-generation electronics, and data and energy storage devices.

“Observing the fastest events in a variety of systems ranging from molecules, materials to biological specimen is an amazing capability both for fundamental science and applications,” says Katja Nowack, assistant professor of physics. “Margaret Murnane is a pioneer in ultrafast optical sciences. Her work includes the development of the fastest strobe light that exists which allows her to record some of the fastest motion occurring in nature and the development of ultrafast table-top X-ray sources. We are tremendously excited to have her as this semester’s Bethe lecturer and look forward to an engaging set of lectures.”

Murnane is director of the U.S. National Science Foundation STROBE Science and Technology Center on functional nano-imaging, a fellow at JILA and a member of the Department of Physics and Electrical and Computer Engineering at the University of Colorado. She received her B.S. and M.S. degrees from University College Cork, Ireland, and her Ph.D. in physics from the University of California, Berkeley, in 1989. 

She is a fellow of the American Physical Society, the Optical Society of America Her honors include the Ives Medal/Quinn Prize of the Optical Society of America, the Maria Goeppert-Mayer Award of the American Physical Society, a John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Fellowship, and election to the National Academy of Sciences, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, the American Philosophical Society, and the Royal Irish Academy.

As part of the Hans Bethe Lecture series, Murnane will also present the physics colloquium, “Science at the Timescale of the Electron: Coherent X-ray Beams From Tabletop Femtosecond Lasers,” Oct. 16 at 4 p.m. in Schwartz Auditorium; and a Laboratory of Atomic and Solid State Physics and Applied and Engineering Physics theory seminar, “Capturing the Fastest Charge and Spin Dynamics in Nanosystems Using Tabletop High Harmonic Beams,” Oct. 17 at 4 p.m. in 700 Clark Hall.

The Hans Bethe Lectures, established by the Department of Physics and the College of Arts and Sciences, honor Bethe, Cornell professor of physics from 1936 until his death in 2005. Bethe won the Nobel Prize in physics in 1967 for his description of the nuclear processes that power the sun.

This story also appeared in the Cornell Chronicle.

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