Because what could possibly go wrong—scientists create a black hole on Earth

Nothing could go wrong reassure experts. Using the world’s most powerful and advanced X-Ray laser, experts have managed to create a ‘MINI BLACK HOLE’ in a laboratory which could lead to numerous revolutionary developments in science.

In this illustration, an ultra-intense X-ray laser pulse from SLAC’s Linac Coherent Light Source knocks so many electrons out of a molecule’s iodine atom (right) that the iodine starts pulling in electrons from the rest of the molecule (lower left), like an electromagnetic version of a black hole. Many of the stolen electrons are also knocked out by the laser pulse; then the molecule explodes. (DESY/Science Communication Lab)

The machine used extremely bright, intense, fast flashes of light in order to capture atomic-level snapshots of nature’s fastest processes known to us.

According to experts, a single pulse managed to strip away everything but a few electrons out of one atom from the INSIDE out. This resulted in a void that began to pull in electrons from the rest of the molecule—just as black holes feeds on a spiraling disc of matter in space.

This new breakthrough is expected to advance the imaging of viruses and bacteria, something that could eventually lead to the development of better medicines in the near future.

The so-called ‘molecular Black Hole’ was developed by scientists from the Kansas State University.

The results, published in Nature, give scientists fundamental insights they need to better plan and interpret experiments using the most intense and energetic X-ray pulses from SLAC’s Linac Coherent Light Source (LCLS) X-ray free-electron laser. As reported, the laser which created the molecular black hole (LCLS), is used to image individual biological objects, including viruses and bacteria.

“For any type of experiment you do that focuses intense X-rays on a sample, you want to understand how it reacts to the X-rays,” said Daniel Rolles of Kansas State University. “This paper shows that we can understand and model the radiation damage in small molecules, so now we can predict what damage we will get in other systems.”

As explained by SLAC, the experiment, led by Rolles and Artem Rudenko, took place at LCLS’s Coherent X-ray Imaging instrument (CXI).

The device is able to deliver X-rays with the highest possible energies achievable at LCLS, known as hard X-rays, and records data from samples in the instant before the laser pulse destroys them.

So… How intense are those X-ray pulses?

“They are about a hundred times more intense than what you would get if you focused all the sunlight that hits the Earth’s surface onto a thumbnail,” said LCLS staff scientist and co-author Sebastien Boutet.

Scientists used mirrors in order to focus the X-ray beam on a spot which is around 100 NANOMETERS in diameter—that’s around one thousand times SMALLER than the width of a human hair.

As reported by SLAC, “scientists observed three types of different samples, individual xenon atoms, which have 54 electrons each, and two types of molecules that each contain a single iodine atom, which has 53 electrons.”

Interestingly, based on previous studies experts expected electrons from the outer parts of the atom to drop into voids inside the atom. While this did occur, the process did not end there.

SLAC reports that the iodine atom also sucked in electrons from neighboring carbon and hydrogen atoms, losing a total of 54 electrons, resulting in a level of damage and disruption which is higher than expected, and greatly different in nature.

Artem Rudenko, the co-author of the study, said: “We think the effect was even more important in the larger molecule than in the smaller one, but we don’t know how to quantify it yet. We estimate that more than 60 electrons were kicked out, but we don’t actually know where it stopped because we could not detect all the fragments that flew off as the molecule fell apart to see how many electrons were missing. This is one of the open questions we need to study.”

Mike Dunne, director of the LCLS, concluded: “This has important benefits for scientists wishing to achieve the highest-resolution images of biological molecules to inform the development of better pharmaceuticals, for example.”


The World’s Most Powerful X-ray Laser Beam Creates ‘Molecular Black Hole’

A. Rudenko et al., Nature, 1 June 2017 (10.1038/nature22373)

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