ASU to build the world’s first Compact X-ray Free Electron Laser

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The National Science Foundation has awarded Arizona State University $90.8 million to build the world’s first Compact X-ray Free Electron Laser (CXFEL), advancing X-ray science and opening the door to groundbreaking research. This is the largest NSF research award in the university’s history.

This 5-year project will support building the CXFEL on ASU’s Tempe campus. This instrument will be about 30 feet in length and cost a fraction of its XFEL predecessors, which can be 1 km and more in length and cost billions to construct. The CXFEL will fit in a lab, hospital or industrial setting.

Today Bill Graves and Petra Fromme, Directors of the ASU Biodesign Center for Applied Structural Discovery, join us to discuss more on the project.

What is the Compact X-ray Free Electron Laser?

This is an x-ray that produce sharp images, “They are so sharp that they can get a picture of a molecule before it is destroyed. X-rays damage molecules, but this makes sharp images that you can get a picture of molecule movement before any destruction happens,” said Fromme.

Is this really compact than usual equipment like this?

“It’s about a 100 times smaller than any existing x-ray laser,” said Graves. This is important because, “right now there are only about five of these x-ray lasers in the world, about one per continent, and they cost about a billion dollars and they are about a mile long. Our’s is small enough to fit in a room, it’s about thirty feet long and that means it can fit on a university campus, which is where it is. It’s at ASU in the biology building,” said Graves.

Are looking at atomic levels?

“We will be able to get molecule movies of molecules in action. For example, when you have starting picture for a sector, then you will just use that picture, but we will be able to see molecules moving like in the sector on the surface of a cancer cell,” said Fromme. By doing so, this can help lead better research when developing medicines for future diseases.

Bill Graves & Petra Fromme, Directors of the ASU Biodesign Center for Applied Structural Discovery

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