Extremely Powerful X-ray Laser Heats Water To 100,000 Degrees In A Fraction Of A Second

Posted: May 17 2018, 4:06am CDT | by , Updated: May 17 2018, 4:22pm CDT, in News | Latest Science News

 
Extremely Powerful X-ray Laser Heats Water to 100,000 Degrees in a Fraction of a Second
An illustration shows water molecules flying apart after some of their electrons are punched out by an X-ray laser pulse. Credit: Carl Caleman, DESY/Uppsala University

World's fastest water heater transforms water to plasma within millionths of a billionth of a second

Scientists have found a way to heat water from room temperature to 100,000 degrees Celsius in less than a tenth of a picosecond. Under lab conditions, they shoot extremely intense and ultra-short flashes of X-rays at a jet of water and produced a new exotic state that was impossible to achieve with conventional methods. One picosecond is equal to one trillionth or one-millionth of a millionth of a second. That makes it the world’s fastest water heater.

"It is not the usual way to boil your water. Normally, when you heat water, the molecules will just be shaken stronger and stronger,” explained Carl Caleman from the Center for Free-Electron Laser Science (CFEL) at DESY. “Our heating is fundamentally different. The energetic X-rays punch electrons out of the water molecules, thereby destroying the balance of electric charges. So, suddenly the atoms feel a strong repulsive force and start to move violently."

Water is made up of atoms and molecules and all molecules are in constant motion. When more heat is added to water, the molecules move faster. In less than 75 femtoseconds, that's 75 millionths of a billionth of a second or 0.000 000 000 000 075 seconds, the water transforms from liquid to plasma. Plasma is a state of matter where the electrons have been removed from the atoms and results in a sort of electrically charged gas. The state is characterized by unique abilities and is not found naturally on Earth.

“But while the water transforms from liquid to plasma, it still remains at the density of liquid water, as the atoms didn’t have time to move significantly yet,” said co-author Olof Jönsson from Uppsala University. "It has similar characteristics as some plasmas in the sun and the gas giant Jupiter but has a lower density. Meanwhile, it is hotter than Earth’s core.”

To confirm their measurements, researchers also used simulations of the process. Together, measurements and simulations allowed them to learn more about the peculiar characteristics of water. Simulations showed almost no structural changes in the water up to 25 femtoseconds after the X-ray pulse hit it. But at 75 femtoseconds, changes become evident. The process opens up interesting new ways for experiments with heated samples of the chemical.

“The study gives us a better understanding of what we do to different samples,” said co-author Nicusor Timneanu from Uppsala University. “Its observations are also important of considerations for the development of techniques to image single molecules or other tiny particles with X-ray lasers.”

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