The science, the hype ...: let's digest the digest
Science: Scientists made very short, weak X-ray laser pulses
- Pulse duration: 43e-18 s (43 as)
- Energy: some 100 +/- 100 eV
- Applications: To be found (see outlook of their paper)
Hype: We can make molecular movies, we can see bio/chemical reactions in real time.
- "... directly observe how the electrons in molecules of [phosphorus and sulphur] – both elements common in biochemical reactions move when excited." Only they didn't make a single experiment on a molecule, nor on phosphorous or sulfur, nor on anything biological. Their outlook talks about a bright future, where angels sing and attoseconds dance --maybe this got mixed up a bit in the press release.
- "...the researchers effectively found a better way to snapshot chemical reactions ..."
Chemical reactions involve atoms moving. the fastest atom motion is in the hydrogen molecule with some 8 fs ground state motion period and a ground state vibrational energy of 1/2* 4166 cm-1. Their photons have an energy of some 100 eV = 8e6 cm-1 and an energy uncertainty of some 8e6 cm-1. Using these photons to see chemical motion is a bit like using a cargo ship to feel the shape of a mussel stuck to the pier.
- "The team also hopes that the ultra-mega-super-fast laser can be used to manipulate chemical reactions as well as observing them." Photons of 100 eV energy are soft x-rays and are ionizing radiation. Common bio/chemical reactions involve energies in the range of 1 eV or below. Again a bit of a mismatch, akin to controlling the motion of a snail by running it over with your car. But then, this claim has been made for every new light source in the last 100 years, so I guess it would be odd to leave it out.
Don't get me wrong, those scientists set up a great experiment and they'll eventually find a use for their laser. But why do those press releases have to claim the suspension of all physical laws and free doughnuts for everyone?