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Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Kansas State EPSCoR physicist uses X-ray lasers to create molecular black hole

Artistic rendering of "molecular black hole"
courtesy of DESY/Science Communication Lab.
    Kansas NSF EPSCoR Track II physicist, Artem Rudenko, and his colleague, Daniel Rolles, both assistant professors of physics at Kansas State University (KSU), have successfully used short pulses of ultra-intense high-energy X-rays to create detailed images illustrating X-Ray interactions with and break ups of molecules.  Rudenko is a research team member on the current Track 2 NSF EPSCoR grant titled, Imaging and Controlling Ultrafast Dynamics of Atoms, Molecules and Nanostructures
    This discovery involved shooting iodomethane, CH3I, and iodobenzene, C6H5I molecules with an X-ray laser.  The X-ray laser used in the experiments is located at Linac Coherent Light Source at SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory at Stanford University and has an intensity of 100 quadrillion kilowatts per square centimeter.  This X-ray laser is understood to be the most powerful laser in the world.  According to Rudenko, "As this powerful X-ray light hits a molecule, the heaviest atom, the iodine, absorbs a few hundred times more X-rays than all the other atoms. Then, most of its electrons are stripped away, creating a large positive charge on the iodine." This positive charge pulls electrons from other atoms in the molecule creating a short-lived black hole. This stripping away process only takes a few femtoseconds (A femtosecond is a millionth of a billionth of a second) and repeats the process until the molecule explodes. Unlike a real black hole in space, the molecular black hole allows the electrons to eventually escape.
   This research may help scientists better understand the damages from X-ray radiation; provide a tool to image biological particles, such as proteins and viruses, with high resolution; shed light on the charge and energy flow in highly energized molecules involved with solar energy conversion; and impact the field of radiation-driven chemistry.

For more information on this discovery go to K-State News  and the June 1 2017 Issue of Nature.

This research was supported by the National Science Foundation EPSCoR Track II Award No. IIA-1430493 and was funded by the U.S. Department of Energy's Basic Energy Sciences Program