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FLASH Laser Leads to Discovery of New State of Matter


Like a scene out of Star Trek, Oxford scientists have created a transparent form of aluminium by bombarding the metal with the world’s most powerful soft X-ray laser. 'Transparent aluminium' previously only existed in science fiction, but the real material is an exotic new state of matter with important implications for planetary science and nuclear fusion.

In this week’s Nature Physics an international team, led by Oxford University scientists, report that a short pulse from the FLASH laser ‘knocked out’ a core electron from every aluminium atom in a sample without disrupting the metal’s crystalline structure. This turned the aluminium nearly invisible to extreme ultraviolet radiation.

''What we have created is a completely new state of matter nobody has seen before,’ said Professor Justin Wark of Oxford University’s Department of Physics, one of the authors of the paper. ‘Transparent aluminium is just the start. The physical properties of the matter we are creating are relevant to the conditions inside large planets, and we also hope that by studying it we can gain a greater understanding of what is going on during the creation of 'miniature stars' created by high-power laser implosions, which may one day allow the power of nuclear fusion to be harnessed here on Earth.’

The discovery was made possible with the development of a new source of radiation that is ten billion times brighter than any synchrotron in the world (such as the UK’s Diamond Light Source). The FLASH laser, based in Hamburg, Germany, produces extremely brief pulses of soft X-ray light, each of which is more powerful than the output of a power plant that provides electricity to a whole city.

The Oxford team, along with their international colleagues, focused all this power down into a spot with a diameter less than a twentieth of the width of a human hair. At such high intensities the aluminium turned transparent.

Whilst the invisible effect lasted for only an extremely brief period - an estimated 40 femtoseconds - it demonstrates that such an exotic state of matter can be created using very high power X-ray sources.

Professor Wark added: ‘What is particularly remarkable about our experiment is that we have turned ordinary aluminium into this exotic new material in a single step by using this very powerful laser. For a brief period the sample looks and behaves in every way like a new form of matter. In certain respects, the way it reacts is as though we had changed every aluminium atom into silicon: it’s almost as surprising as finding that you can turn lead into gold with light!’

The researchers believe that the new approach is an ideal way to create and study such exotic states of matter and will lead to further work relevant to areas as diverse as planetary science, astrophysics and nuclear fusion power.

Casey Kazan via Oxford University


The FLASH laser is a very intriguing piece of equipment. Hopefully more discoveries will be found from this new lead.

I honestly came a little

lol, doc L i came as well

A new type of matter... For 40 femtoseconds, on a spot less than a hair's width, requiring tremendous energy to produce.


galileo was a fool

whale of a discovery. thanks scotty.

How exactly is this a new state of matter? It is just aluminum with an electron knocked out, it is still just a solid, that researcher needs to do some research.

This sounds more like science fiction that star trek it's self. good creative writing

@Jake: Dude, do some of your own research. Do you disagree that "plasma" is a state of matter distinct from "gas"? And what's the difference between the two? Yeesh.

Can someone explain what is happening in this article in English please!!

Sup CE!

Can someone explain to me what is happening in this article in English please!!

Any /b/ros here?


all you people treating it as no big deal this is very interesting it proves that there can be a new form of matter whether or not it lasts a very short amount of time

@all the people who don't think this is amazing, this is the equivalent someone turning a cat into a car. An invisible car.

Now we should try to make a sausage disappear.

Transparent alumina have been known to science for a very long time. Sapphire is a well known example of transparent aluminum (really aluminum mixed with oxygen, sapphire has color because it has chromium dopant). What these people have done is simply excite the valence electrons in their aluminum crystal to a really high energy in the conduction band of the metal, which means those electrons are not capable of absorbing any light until they relax back into the valence band (making the metal transparent to UV). Apparently, it takes about 40fs for that to happen for a third of the excited electron population. This is a very standard process that is studied in basically every kind of crystal known to science. This isn't news, it's not even interesting, it's expected.

@Butthole (a.k.a. trollolol) This is not even close to "equivalent someone turning a cat into a car. An invisible car." Here's why;

I just read the paper the author of this article is referencing. The fact that the aluminum becomes transparent isn't really that cool, the phenomenon that leads to the transparency is what makes this interesting. The authors of the Nature article summarize it well in their conclusion "Thus, at the instant the pulse has passed, we can infer that the aluminium is in an exotic, highly ionized, yet crystalline state, of which the physical properties (for example, band structure, equation of state, phonon spectrum and so on) are largely unknown."

So, just to make it clear, what is important is that the transparency is evidence that the aluminum atoms are becoming ionized, yet the crystal remains crystalline. And, no one (as of this papers publishing in May 2010) has studied an ionized aluminum crystal theoretically (as opposed to experimentally), which according to these people could yield insights in other fields.

By the way these people used an aluminum foil 53nm thick, which is essentially transparent in the optical wavelengths. Any metal that thin is.

I hope the author of this article tries harder in the future.

Here is a link to the article in question. This is the paper's abstract:

"Turning solid aluminium transparent by intense soft X-ray photoionization

Bob Nagler et al.21


Saturable absorption is a phenomenon readily seen in the optical and infrared wavelengths. It has never been observed in core-electron transitions owing to the short lifetime of the excited states involved and the high intensities of the soft X-rays needed. We report saturable absorption of an L-shell transition in aluminium using record intensities over 10^16 W cm−2 at a photon energy of 92 eV. From a consideration of the relevant timescales, we infer that immediately after the X-rays have passed, the sample is in an exotic state where all of the aluminium atoms have an L-shell hole, and the valence band has approximately a 9 eV temperature, whereas the atoms are still on their crystallographic positions. Subsequently, Auger decay heats the material to the warm dense matter regime, at around 25 eV temperatures. The method is an ideal candidate to study homogeneous warm dense matter, highly relevant to planetary science, astrophysics and inertial confinement fusion."

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