Two flashes – one world record!
The world's fastest and most detailed film, that was developed by Helmholtz scientists in early 2012, made it into the Guinness Book of Records. The film was shot using two laser flashes generated by the X-ray laser FLASH at Deutsches Elektronen-Synchrotron DESY. Particular Berlin citizens can be glad about the record as the film features their Brandenburg Gate
The researchers aim at observing, understanding and, in the long term, specifically changing processes at the molecular and atomic level. Transitions from one state into another are particularly interesting, such as those taking place during ultrafast molecular processes inside cells and chemical reactions. For instance, it is possible to observe the splitting of a water molecule into its two components oxygen and hydrogen. This is why researchers do not need feature films but rather short films. They would be happy with only three images: start – reaction – conclusion. A 10-image film would count as a feature film. Technically speaking, in the future it may be possible to produce up to 100 images.
The researchers' film studio was the X-ray laser FLASH at DESY: a free-electron laser generating the ultrashort, highly intensive flashes of soft X-rays needed for taking the pictures. The 315-metre-long facility consists of three components: an accelerator accelerates the electrons to nearly the speed of light. The particles then pass through "undulators". This section consists of many hundreds of paired magnets that force the electrons into a slalom course. The thus oscillating particles emit short, strong laser flashes, which ultimately are transmitted into the experimentation room.
The "atomic age of film" will begin at DESY in Hamburg the latest in 2017. The European X-ray free electron laser XFEL will be commissioned in that year. The resolution provided by XFEL with be higher to the factor 10 to 100 compared to FLASH1 and 2. This will enable scientists to observe and film details of viruses and cells as well as chemical reactions with a hitherto unmatched degree of detail.