A rendering of how changes in an electron's motion (bottom view) alter the scattering of light (top view), as measured in a new experiment that scattered more than 500 photons of light from a single electron. Previous experiments had managed to scatter no more than a few photons at a time. Credit: Extreme Light Laboratory|University of Nebraska-Lincoln
June 26, 2017 (Phys.org) -- Physicists from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln are seeing an everyday phenomenon in a new light.
By focusing laser light to a brightness one billion times greater than the surface of the sun -- the brightest light ever produced on Earth -- the physicists have observed changes in a vision-enabling interaction between light and matter.
Those changes yielded unique X-ray pulses with the potential to generate extremely high-resolution imagery useful for medical, engineering, scientific and security purposes. The team's findings, detailed June 26 in the journal Nature Photonics, should also help inform future experiments involving high-intensity lasers.
Donald Umstadter and colleagues at the university's Extreme Light Laboratory fired their Diocles Laser at helium-suspended electrons to measure how the laser's photons -- considered both particles and waves of light -- scattered from a single electron after striking it.
Under typical conditions, as when light from a bulb or the sun strikes a surface, that scattering phenomenon makes vision possible. But an electron -- the negatively charged particle present in matter-forming atoms -- normally scatters just one photon of light at a time. And the average electron rarely enjoys even that privilege, Umstadter said, getting struck only once every four months or so.