Bright table-top x-ray sources using laser wakefield acceleration

Lead Research Organisation: Imperial College London
Department Name: Physics


The aim of this project is to develop very bright x-ray sources based on the technique of laser wakefield acceleration. This can all be achieved in a compact, university-scale laboratory as laser wakefield acceleration can produce high energy electron beams ( ~ 1 GeV) in just 1 cm, compared with the 100s of metres required using conventional techniques. In laser wakefield acceleration electrons are accelerated in a plasma wave generated by a very intense laser pulse. As the electrons are accelerated in the wakefield they also oscillate, generating very bright x-rays with properties similar to or even surpassing those of conventional synchrotron radiation sources. In particular, the ultra-short nature of these betatron x-rays opens up the possibility of ultra-fast time-resolved studies that are not possible with conventional synchrotron radiation. Such bright x-rays have a multitude of uses in science and technology, being used to study the microscopic properties of matter in areas as diverse as biology, drug development and materials science. Bringing these bright x-ray sources down to a university-laboratory-scale could significantly increase and broaden access to these important tools for science and discovery.The project will study a number of methods that can manipulate the trajectories of the electrons within the wakefield itself to control and enhance the properties of the x-rays generated. Techniques based on laser pulse shaping, plasma profile shaping and the use of multiple laser pulses will be investigated both numerically, using state-of-the-art computational simulations, and on experiments at a number of world leading laser facilities around the world. Access to the multi-TW laser facilities at the Rutherford Appleton Laboratory, Lund University and the University of Michigan will enable these techniques to be studied for a range of laser parameters. The project builds on the strong track record of the Imperial College Laser-Plasma group in the field of laser wakefield acceleration and radiation generation, providing us with new tools for the study of these extremely bright, ultra-bright laser produced x-rays.

Planned Impact

The development of bright high quality x-ray sources based on laser wakefield acceleration will have a direct impact on current users of bright x-ray sources. These include both a broad range of industrial and scientific users, for example at the Diamond light source users working in the areas of structural biology, material science, chemistry, environmental science, oceanography, archaeology, earth science, and even the fields of art, history and cultural heritage use bright x-rays. By developing light sources with comparable or complementary properties, but on a university or industrial laboratory scale, we will open up the possibility of wider access to bright x-rays, for example allowing techniques such as phase contrast imaging or lens-less imaging to be performed in-house. The majority of potential users of these bright x-rays will be from academic institutions, however the potential impact that research undertaken by such a wide range of scientists will be very broad, for example researchers using such sources in the field of structural biology could make discoveries that affect the development of new drugs that will impact wider society.


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Description In this project we have developed a technique to produce bright, ultra-short pulses of x-ray radiation using a technique called "laser wakefield acceleration". The x-rays we can produce have properties that can normally only be acheived using stat-of-the-art large scale particle accelerators, but are produced with a laser system that could fit in a university laboratory.
Exploitation Route We are activley investigating the potential for the x-ray beams we can produce for advanced medical imaging techniques. We are currently actively pursuing new avenues for the application of the x-rays we can produce for imaging - both in the field of high-energy-density science (where these x-rays could be used to probe rapidly evolving dense plasmas normally only found near the interior of planets) and for medical imaging (in particular the use of a technique called phase contrast imaging, which could have uses in, for example, breast cancer diagnosis).
Sectors Energy


Pharmaceuticals and Medical Biotechnology

Security and Diplomacy

Description The development of bright short pulse X-rays for probing is leading to applications in imaging and X-ray spectroscopy in industry, including medical imaging and materials science (including energy storage / battery technology). Much of the work driven by this project underpinned the science case for the recently announced major investment by UKRI in the Extreme Photonics Application Centre (EPAC) at the Rutherford Appleton Laboratory in the UK. Crucially this centre will be used not only for academic research in high energy density science, but also by a wide variety of industrial users.
First Year Of Impact 2011
Sector Aerospace, Defence and Marine,Energy,Healthcare,Manufacturing, including Industrial Biotechology
Impact Types Societal


Description A synchrotron in your lab: producing x-rays for imaging using intense laser pulses 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact A talk to clinical practioners introducing them to the exciting new possibilities of using laser produced synchrotron radiation for medical imaging.

As a direct result of this presentation two new interdisciplinary collaborations were formed to investigate the use of laser produced synchrotron radiation for micro-CT of human bone sample (with a view to impacting on research into osteoporosis) and phase contrast imaging of human prostate (with a view to improving diagnosis of prostate cancer).
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2012
Description Laser wakefield accelerators: GeV electrons and keV x-rays in a university lab 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Postgraduate students
Results and Impact Invited seminar in the Physics @ the Nanoscale series at Kings College London. This gave me the opportunity to introduce our x-ray generation work scientists working in a different field.

After my talk I established new links with post graduate students interested in my research
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2010