Skip to main content

Thank you for visiting You are using a browser version with limited support for CSS. To obtain the best experience, we recommend you use a more up to date browser (or turn off compatibility mode in Internet Explorer). In the meantime, to ensure continued support, we are displaying the site without styles and JavaScript.

Quasi-monoenergetic and tunable X-rays from a laser-driven Compton light source


The maximum achievable photon energy of compact, conventional, Compton-scattering X-ray sources is currently limited by the maximum permissible field gradient of conventional electron accelerators1,2. An alternative compact Compton X-ray source architecture with no such limitation is based instead on a high-field-gradient laser–wakefield accelerator3,4,5,6. In this case, a single high-power (100 TW) laser system generates intense laser pulses, which are used for both electron acceleration and scattering. Although such all-laser-based sources have been demonstrated to be bright and energetic in proof-of-principle experiments7,8,9,10, to date they have lacked several important distinguishing characteristics of conventional Compton sources. We now report the experimental demonstration of all-laser-driven Compton X-rays that are both quasi-monoenergetic (50% full-width at half-maximum) and tunable (70 keV to >1 MeV). These performance improvements are highly beneficial for several important X-ray radiological applications2,11,12,13,14,15.

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution

Relevant articles

Open Access articles citing this article.

Access options

Rent or buy this article

Get just this article for as long as you need it


Prices may be subject to local taxes which are calculated during checkout

Figure 1: X-ray generation and detection.
Figure 2: X-ray bandwidth measurement.
Figure 3: X-ray energy tuning.


  1. Albert, F. et al. Characterization and applications of a tunable, laser-based, MeV-class Compton-scattering gamma-ray source. Phys. Rev. 13, 070704 (2010).

    Google Scholar 

  2. Achterhold, K. et al. Monochromatic computed tomography with a compact laser-driven X-ray source. Sci. Rep. 3, 1313 (2013).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  3. Catravas, P., Esarey, E. & Leemans, W. P. Femtosecond X-rays from Thomson scattering using laser wakefield accelerators. Meas. Sci. Technol. 12, 1828–1834 (2001).

    Article  ADS  Google Scholar 

  4. Umstadter, D., He, F. & Lau, Y. Ultra-short wavelength X-ray system US patent 7,321,604 (2008).

  5. Esarey, E., Schroeder, C. B. & Leemans, W. P. Physics of laser-driven plasma-based electron accelerators. Rev. Mod. Phys. 81, 1229–1285 (2009).

    Article  ADS  Google Scholar 

  6. Ghebregziabher, I., Shadwick, B. A. & Umstadter, D. Spectral bandwidth reduction of Thomson scattered light by pulse chirping. Phys. Rev. 16, 030705 (2013).

    Google Scholar 

  7. Schwoerer, H., Liesfeld, B., Schlenvoigt, H. P., Amthor, K. U. & Sauerbrey, R. Thomson-backscattered X rays from laser-accelerated electrons. Phys. Rev. Lett. 96, 014802 (2006).

    Article  ADS  Google Scholar 

  8. Ta Phuoc, K. et al. All-optical Compton gamma-ray source. Nature Photon. 6, 308–311 (2012).

    Article  ADS  Google Scholar 

  9. Mori, Y. et al. Head-on inverse Compton scattering X-rays with energy beyond 10 keV from laser-accelerated quasi-monoenergetic electron bunches. Appl. Phys. Express 5, 056401 (2012).

    Article  ADS  Google Scholar 

  10. Chen, S. et al. MeV-energy X rays from inverse Compton scattering with laser-wakefield accelerated electrons. Phys. Rev. Lett. 110, 155003 (2013).

    Article  ADS  Google Scholar 

  11. Boone, J. M. & Seibert, J. A. A figure of merit comparison between bremsstrahlung and monoenergetic X-ray sources for angiography. J. X-ray Sci. Technol. 4, 334–345 (1994).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  12. Carroll, F. E. Tunable monochromatic X rays: a new paradigm in medicine. Am. J. Roentgenol. 179, 583–590 (2002).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  13. Brenner, D. J. et al. Cancer risks attributable to low doses of ionizing radiation: assessing what we really know. Proc. Natl Acad. Sci. USA 100, 13761–13766 (2003).

    Article  ADS  Google Scholar 

  14. Giulietti, A. et al. Intense γ-ray source in the giant-dipole-resonance range driven by 10-TW laser pulses. Phys. Rev. Lett. 101, 105002 (2008).

    Article  ADS  Google Scholar 

  15. Habs, D. et al. Vision of nuclear physics with photo-nuclear reactions by laser-driven gamma beams. Eur. Phys. J. D 55, 279–285 (2009).

    Article  ADS  Google Scholar 

  16. Corde, S. et al. Femtosecond X rays from laser-plasma accelerators. Rev. Mod. Phys. 85, 1–48 (2013).

    Article  ADS  Google Scholar 

  17. Tajima, T. & Dawson, J. M. Laser electron accelerator. Phys. Rev. Lett. 43, 267–270 (1979).

    Article  ADS  Google Scholar 

  18. Esarey, E., Ride, S. K. & Sprangle, P. Nonlinear Thomson scattering of intense laser pulses from beams and plasmas. Phys. Rev. E 48, 3003–3021 (1993).

    Article  ADS  Google Scholar 

  19. Hartemann, F. V. et al. Compton scattering X-ray sources driven by laser wakefield acceleration. Phys. Rev. 10, 011301 (2007).

    Google Scholar 

  20. Geddes, C. G. R. et al. High-quality electron beams from a laser wakefield accelerator using plasma-channel guiding. Nature 431, 538–541 (2004).

    Article  ADS  Google Scholar 

  21. Mangles, S. P. D. et al. Monoenergetic beams of relativistic electrons from intense laser–plasma interactions. Nature 431, 535–538 (2004).

    Article  ADS  Google Scholar 

  22. Faure, J. et al. A laser–plasma accelerator producing monoenergetic electron beams. Nature 431, 541–544 (2004).

    Article  ADS  Google Scholar 

  23. Brunetti, E. et al. Low emittance, high brilliance relativistic electron beams from a laser–plasma accelerator. Phys. Rev. Lett. 105, 215007 (2010).

    Article  ADS  Google Scholar 

  24. Gonsalves, A. J. et al. Tunable laser plasma accelerator based on longitudinal density tailoring. Nature Phys. 7, 862–866 (2011).

    Article  ADS  Google Scholar 

  25. Banerjee, S. et al. Generation of tunable, 100–800 MeV quasi-monoenergetic electron beams from a laser-wakefield accelerator in the blowout regime. Phys. Plasmas 19, 056703 (2012).

    Article  ADS  Google Scholar 

  26. Liu, C. et al. Repetitive petawatt-class laser with near-diffraction-limited focal spot and transform-limited pulse duration. Proc. SPIE 8599, 859919 (2013).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  27. Ross, P. A. A new method of spectroscopy for faint X-radiations. J. Opt. Soc. Am. 16, 433–436 (1928).

    Article  ADS  Google Scholar 

  28. Leemans, W. P. GeV electron beams from a centimetre-scale accelerator. Nature Phys. 2, 696–699 (2006).

    Article  ADS  Google Scholar 

  29. Liu, J. S. et al. All-optical cascaded laser wakefield accelerator using ionization-induced injection. Phys. Rev. Lett. 107, 035001 (2011).

    Article  ADS  Google Scholar 

  30. Pollock, B. B. et al. Demonstration of a narrow energy spread, similar to 0.5 GeV electron beam from a two-stage laser wakefield accelerator. Phys. Rev. Lett. 107, 045001 (2011).

    Article  ADS  Google Scholar 

Download references


The authors thank K. Brown, J. Mills and C. Petersen for their contributions to the laser facility. The authors thank D. Haden and N. Cunningham from Nebraska Wesleyan University for their contributions to X-ray detector analysis. The authors thank C. Wilson, T. Anderson and D. Alexander from the University of Nebraska–Lincoln Electrical Engineering department for precision-cutting of Ross filters. This material is based on work supported by the US Department of Energy (DE-FG02-05ER15663), the Defense Threat Reduction Agency (HDTRA1-11-C-0001), the Air Force Office for Scientific Research (FA 9550-08-1-0232 and FA9550-11-1-0157), the Department of Homeland Security (2007-DN-077-ER0007-02), the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (FA9550-09-1-0009) and USSTRATCOM (FA4600-12-D-9000). The views expressed here do not represent those of the sponsors.

Author information

Authors and Affiliations



The experiments were conceived and designed by D.U., N.P., S.B., S.C., I.G., C.L. and G.G. Experiments were carried out by G.G., N.P., S.B., S.C., I.G., C.L. and J.Z. Data analysis was performed by G.G., I.G. and N.P. Materials and analysis tools were provided by G.G., I.G., S.B. and N.P. The manuscript was written by D.U. and N.P.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to D. P. Umstadter.

Ethics declarations

Competing interests

The authors declare no competing financial interests.

Supplementary information

Supplementary information

Supplementary information (PDF 792 kb)

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Cite this article

Powers, N., Ghebregziabher, I., Golovin, G. et al. Quasi-monoenergetic and tunable X-rays from a laser-driven Compton light source. Nature Photon 8, 28–31 (2014).

Download citation

  • Received:

  • Accepted:

  • Published:

  • Issue Date:

  • DOI:

This article is cited by


Quick links

Nature Briefing

Sign up for the Nature Briefing newsletter — what matters in science, free to your inbox daily.

Get the most important science stories of the day, free in your inbox. Sign up for Nature Briefing