Illustration of X-ray flashes being generated in the XFEL

If you’ve ever wanted to see three-dimensional images of individual molecules, your wishes have come true. The folks over at the Science and Technology Facilities Council in UK have developed an X-ray camera that lets you do just that. Created for use in the European XFEL (X-ray Free-Electron Laser) facility, the camera can capture images at a blazing speed of 4.5 million frames per second. Considering that a camera needs to shoot at 5,000 frames per second to capture a speeding bullet, you can imagine how fast this X-ray camera works.

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The camera works by using superconducting accelerator technology to produce X-ray flashes a billion times brighter than those created by conventional methods. With these intense high-speed flashes (each one lasts less than one hundred billionth of a second), it becomes possible to get three-dimensional images of molecules. And if you’re wondering why anyone would need to look at pictures of molecules, scientists can use the pictures to map the atomic details of viruses, pinpoint the molecular composition of individual cells, and better understand matter and its behavior.

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