Microscopic chip-based device improving the modulation of x-rays

The development of a neoteric microscopic chip-based device has enhanced the modulation of x-rays, potentially evolving an array of modern applications.

The new x-ray optics, developed by a research team from the U.S Department of Energy’s Argonne National Laboratory, are proficient in obtaining high-speed pulses in a considerably smaller and lighter package than conventionally used devices – using microscopic chip-based devices known as microelectromechanical systems (MEMS) to do so.

Jin Wang, the research team leader, said: “Our new ultrafast optics-on-a-chip is poised to enable x-ray research and applications that could have a broad impact on understanding fast-evolving chemical, material and biological processes.

“This could aid in the development of more efficient solar cells and batteries, advanced computer storage materials and devices, and more effective drugs for fighting diseases.”

The research, published in The Optical Society (OSA) journal Optics Express, states that the novel x-ray optics are diminutive in size, measuring just 250 micrometres and weighing only three micrograms –  impressively accomplishing between 100 and 1,000 times the speed of their much bulkier predecessors.

Wang said: “Although we demonstrated the device in a large x-ray synchrotron facility when fully developed, it could be used with conventional x-ray generators found in scientific labs or hospitals.

“The same technology could also be used to develop other devices such as precise dosage delivery systems for radiation therapy or fast x-ray scanners for non-destructive diagnostics.”

X-rays require extremely high-speed cameras with equally rapid shutter speeds – this allows them to capture fast processes of chemical reactions and the quickly changing dynamics of biological molecules. Nevertheless, due to various materials being opaque to light, they are transparent to x-rays, meaning the advancements of shutter speeds are an arduous task.

Undeterred by this challenge, the research team comprised of scientists from Argonne’s Advanced Photon Source and Center for Nanoscale Materials utilised MEMS-based devices.

Wang said: “In addition to being used in many of the electronics we use daily, MEMS are also used to manipulate light for high-speed communication. We wanted to find out if MEMS-based photonic devices can perform similar functions for x-rays as they do with visible or infrared light.”

The investigation indicated that the microscopic nature of their device enabled the shutter to oscillate at speeds equivalent to around one million revolutions per minute, exploiting this high speed and the MEMS material’s x-ray diffractive property to innovate an extremely fast x-ray shutter.

Furthermore, the researchers demonstrated a stable shutter speed as fast as one nanosecond with a tremendously high on/off contrast; potentially, this could be used to extract single x-ray pulses from the source even if only 2.8 nanoseconds separated them.

“We show that our new chip-based technology can perform functions not possible with conventional large optics. This can be used to create ultrafast probes for studying fast processes in novel materials,” Wang added.

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