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Brilliant femtosecond-laser-driven hard X-ray flashes from carbon nanotube plasma


Brilliant X- and γ-ray sources with ultrashort duration are widely pursued in fundamental science, industry and medicine. Compact femtosecond X-ray sources based on relativistic electrons accelerated by the laser wakefield in gases have performed outstandingly. Their energy conversion efficiency from laser to hard X-ray photons (>10 keV) is, however, limited to 10−7–10−5. Here we report the high-yield generation of hard X-ray flashes from targets made of carbon nanotubes, instead of gases. Orders-of-magnitude more electrons, accelerated to relativistic energy, are strongly wiggled inside a micrometre-scale, near-critical density plasma formed by the nanotube target, emitting 1012 high-energy photons per shot. The yield of hard X-rays exceeds 1010 photons per joule, corresponding to an unprecedented efficiency of 10−3. Irradiated by upcoming 10-PW-class lasers, such targets can deliver 10-MeV photons with brightness outperforming existing sources by two orders of magnitude.

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Fig. 1: Evolution of a CNT target interacting with the rising edge of the petawatt laser pulse.
Fig. 2: Schematic drawing and the measured photon spectra.
Fig. 3: X-rays from the NCD plasmas.
Fig. 4: DLA electrons and scaling law in the CS regime.
Fig. 5: Performance of typical X-ray sources.

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Data availability

The main data that support the findings of this study are available within the paper and its Supplementary Information. Extra data are available from the corresponding authors upon request.

Code availability

The open-source code EPOCH was used and the detailed set-up of the simulations that support the plots and other findings of this study are presented in the Supplementary Information.


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The work was supported by the Institute for Basic Science, Korea under project code IBS-R012-D1, and the National Grand Instrument Project, China (2019YFF01014402). W.M. acknowledges support from the National Science Fund for Distinguished Young Scholars (12225501). W.M. and X.Y. thank the NSFC innovation group project (11921006) for financial support. X.Y. acknowledges support from the National Natural Science Foundation of China (11025523 and J1103206). The PIC simulations were carried out in Shanghai Super Computation Center and the High-performance Computing Platform of Peking University. We thank H. Deng for fruitful discussions.

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Authors and Affiliations



W.M., X.Y. and C.H.N. conducted the work. The experiments were performed by Y.S., P.W., S.G.L., Y.J.R., H.W.L., J.W.Y., J.H.S., S.K.L., Z.P., D.K., Z.M., J.L., S.X. and I.W.C. Y.S. carried out all simulations. Some details of the physics were clarified by Z.D., W.Z. and T.T. The manuscript was written by Y.S. and revised by W.M. All authors reviewed the manuscript.

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Correspondence to Chang Hee Nam or Wenjun Ma.

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Nature Photonics thanks Tobias Ostermayr, Ingo Uschmann and the other, anonymous, reviewer(s) for their contribution to the peer review of this work.

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Supplementary Figs. 1–25, Tables 1–7 and Sections I–V.

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Shou, Y., Wang, P., Lee, S.G. et al. Brilliant femtosecond-laser-driven hard X-ray flashes from carbon nanotube plasma. Nat. Photon. 17, 137–142 (2023).

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