(Inside Science) -- X-rays are short wavelengths of light with a long list of scientific accomplishments. Now researchers have made a simple quartz plate that could help take X-ray-powered science to new heights, such as uncovering how chemical reactions happen and making fundamental particles of mass from colliding beams of light.
X-rays can famously penetrate soft tissue, revealing broken bones. But their resume isn't limited to the medical field. Cutting-edge scientific instruments like the Linac Coherent Light Source, located at the SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory in Menlo Park, California, generate ultra-short, intense X-ray pulses to probe matter at the scale of atoms and molecules.
Manufacturing the lenses and mirrors to steer the X-rays in such machines is a big technical challenge, and imperfections inevitably creep in that make it difficult to perfectly focus the beam. An international team of scientists has developed "glasses" that correct for the defects.
They demonstrated the technique for a stack of 20 X-ray lenses -- the type of optics equipment that might be used for experiments requiring an intense beam of X-rays focused down to an extremely small area. The corrective plate helped focus most of the X-rays onto a spot just 250 nanometers across, tripling the intensity in that center area. The results were published in the journal Nature Communications.
The team plans to install corrective plates at the Linac Coherent Light Source and at the PETRA III X-ray source in Hamburg, Germany. The plates have the potential to push the capabilities of many X-ray instruments to new levels, the team said, which means X-rays may soon reveal even more scientific secrets.