Astonishing! Water heated to 100,000 degrees in just 75 Femtoseconds using X-ray laser

X-ray lasers are creating new capabilities in understanding the structure of biological systems, complex materials and matter under extreme conditions. Extremely intense coherent X-ray pulses can be exploited to create and probe extreme states of matter.

A research team from the Uppsala University in Sweden reportedly has heated water at room temperature to 180,000 degrees F (100,000 degrees C) in just 0.000 000 000 000 075 seconds. The scientists successfully achieved this temperature in “less than a tenth of a picosecond” with the help of an “X-ray laser.” The method did not let water to evaporate at such incredibly high temperature.

This experiment was performed as a part of a study aimed at unveiling the unknown facts about water. Carl Caleman, the leader of the Swedish team of researchers, made use of an “X-ray free-electron laser source” in the SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory in the United States to study the attributes of water. As a technique for the study, the scientists heated a water jet by targeting it with an ultra-short and intense flash of x-rays. The laser source used in the experiment is known as the Linac Coherent Light Source, which became the quickest water heater in the world.

As an official assertion from the Uppsala University, Carl Caleman said that the method used in the study is not the regular way of boiling the water. He said that generally when water is heated, the molecules present in the liquid just go on getting stronger, but their heating technique was different. Caleman explained further that in their technique of heating water, the powerful X-rays force out the electrons from the molecules of water, thereby sabotaging the electric charge balance and making the atoms move violently due to the intense repulsive force.

Olof Jönsson, the co-author of the study from the Uppsala University said in a statement that at the time when water gets transitioned to plasma, its density remains the same as before as the atoms do not get the required time to make much movement. In accordance with the statements of Jönsson, matter in that state can never be found on the earth and instead resemble the attributes of some plasma that are found in the sun and in the Jupiter, but with a lesser density. Jönsson added that it is hotter than the core of the Earth. Further, the researcher said water is a peculiar liquid having strange characteristics. He explained that the liquid shows many deviations, for instance, in its density, heat capacity, and thermal conductivity. He concluded saying that these anomalies in water would be analyzed in the later research.

“The method is not really meant for boiling water,” Nicusor Timneanu, a physics and astronomy researcher at Sweden’s Uppsala University told Digital Trends. “X-ray lasers are typically used to investigate the structure of matter on extremely short time scales. Often one has proteins or protein crystals embedded in water, and we have discovered that water is heated in an extremely violent way, by ionizing it and breaking all the bonds. Conventional ways of heating water will give energy to water molecules through heat transfer on a stove [or] vibrations in a microwave. Using X-ray lasers will basically vaporize the water ultrafast. This is exciting for us because we would like to understand how it is vaporized on such short times, using both computations and experiments.”

Another co-author, Kenneth Beyerlein said that the X-ray lasers destroy samples in the tests. He further added that samples that come in contact with X-rays get destroyed like they observed.

Following is the excerpt from the study:

Extreme and Ultrafast X-ray science

X-ray lasers are creating new capabilities in understanding the structure of biological systems, complex materials and matter under extreme conditions. Extremely intense coherent X-ray pulses can be exploited to create and probe extreme states of matter, and also hold promise for structural determination of single macromolecules. I am involved in an inter-disciplinary research at the FLASH free-electron laser in Hamburgand the LCLS Linac Coherent Light Source in Stanford. We use the extremely short X-ray pulses to flash-image living cells, viruses, protein nanocrystals, and will ultimately investigate single protein macromolecules. All the samples exposed to these brilliant sources turn rapidly into plasma, offering us tantalizing possiblities to study fundamental physics problems in the high-energy density regime.

Protein structure from an X-ray laser

Science Magazine has listed the Breakthough of the Year 2012 and the winner is the Higgs Boson. Among the runner-ups is the First Protein Structure with an X-ray Laser.

It is amazing to see the X-ray Laser into the spotlight. Earlier in 2012, Science has published our article on “High Resolution Protein Structure Determination by Serial Femtosecond Crystallography”, which showed the determination of the protein structure from micron-sized lysozyme crystals to high resolution, before the samples were completely vaporized. Using the same method we have recently reported the first determination of the structure of an enzyme specific  for the survival of the parasite that causes African sleeping sickness, Trypanosoma brucei.

You can read the Swedish press releases from Uppsala University, about the “Röntgenlaser avslöjar proteinernas värld i 3D” and “Röntgenlaser användbar i kampen mot sömnsjuka”.

It is also exciting to see the Higgs boson taking the first spot – it has been ten years since I have discussed different production channels and discovering possibilities for Higgs at hadron coliders

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Shivangi Sharma

Shivangi Sharma is a budding journalist who intends to build a bright career in the media industry. She is a health freak who loves to cover the latest news on health studies, besides science behind them.

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