Towards a table-top synchrotron.


A Department of Chemistry academic is part of a research team that is working towards ways to shrink some of the most powerful technologies from large scale facilities to table top equipment.

Dr Adrien Chauvet, who recently joined the Department of Chemistry at the University of Sheffield, is one of a pioneering group of scientists led by Professor Hans Jakob Wörner in Zurich and Professor Jean-Pierre Wolf in Geneva, Switzerland that aimed to create a compact, high-power laser capable of producing soft X-rays.

Dr Chauvet explained, “In order to watch atoms, a magnifying glass is not enough. Instead, we use high power lasers to study the minute movements of atoms and electrons. Only extremely high-power lasers can produce the so-called soft X-rays for this kind of research, but this kind of light can usually only be produced in large scale facilities like the Diamond Light Source near Oxford.

“In our research we used the latest laser technology to produce ultrashort bursts of high energy photons, the fundamental particles of light. The advantages of this laser-based X-ray source are considerable; going from a large scale facility that is about the size of three football fields down to a size that can be easily housed in a laboratory. The reductions in terms of cost and environmental impact are huge.”

The table-top laser that the group developed generates short pulses of light that are about 3000 times more powerful than a typical laser pointer and last only few femtoseconds (1 quadrillionth of a second long).

Using the apparatus Dr Chauvet and his colleagues then undertook research, recently reported in the journal Science, where they observed the electronic rearrangement of specific atoms while chemical reactions took place.

In the future, such technology could be used to control chemical reactions such as to choose whether to break or form particular chemical bonds.

Now at the University of Sheffield, Dr Chauvet will be investigating the ultrafast behaviour of a variety of natural and artificial proteins in solution by applying microfluidics technologies to state-of-the-art pulsed laser systems.

The full article in Science is available online:
Y. Pertot, C. Schmidt, M. Matthews, A. Chauvet, M. Huppert, V. Svoboda1, A. von Conta1, A. Tehlar, D. Baykusheva1, J.-P. Wolf, H. J. Wörner, 2017, Time-resolved x-ray absorption spectroscopy with a water window high-harmonic source. Science.

For further information, please contact: Dr Adrien Chauvet, Lecturer in Physical Chemistry, University of Sheffield, 0114 222 9414,

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