Sequential femtosecond X-ray imaging


Recording a ‘molecular movie’ with atomic spatial resolution on the femtosecond timescale set by atomic motion can be considered the ultimate goal of dynamic real-space imaging. Free-electron X-ray lasers, with their (sub)nanometre wavelength, femtosecond pulse duration and high brilliance, fuel the hope that this may ultimately become possible. Single-shot still pictures with sub-100 nm resolution achieved during femtosecond exposures have recently been demonstrated1,2,3. A femtosecond time-lapse movie requires a sequence of independent images taken with a controllable time delay. As a key step towards achieving a molecular movie, we demonstrate a holographic imaging approach capable of recording two fully independent images with a variable time delay over the entire femtosecond regime. The concept overcomes the fundamental readout time limitations of two-dimensional area detectors, as two subsequent X-ray holograms of a sample can be superimposed within one detector exposure and yet be unambiguously disentangled to reconstruct two independent images.

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Figure 1: General set-up.
Figure 2: Sample layout and single-shot reconstruction.
Figure 3: Two-beam FTH.


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The authors thank the FLASH machine and experiments team for their great support. The assistance of the Bundesministerium für Bildung und Forschung (grants 05 KS4PMC/8 and 05 KS7PM1) within the priority research area FSP 301–FLASH is acknowledged.

Author information

The experiment was conceived by C.M.G., B.P. and S.E. It was carried out at FLASH by C.M.G., B.P. and S.E. together with R.M., B.S., S.R. and H.Z., who characterized and operated the autocorrelator, and with R.T., who operated the beamline and data acquisition tools. The holography mask was produced by O.K., I.R. and D.S.

Correspondence to C. M. Günther or S. Eisebitt.

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The authors declare no competing financial interests.

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Günther, C., Pfau, B., Mitzner, R. et al. Sequential femtosecond X-ray imaging. Nature Photon 5, 99–102 (2011).

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