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FEL Links
>How the FEL works
>Electromagnetic spectrum
>Brain & eye surgery
>1st surgery news conference
>Monochromatic X-ray
>Protein characterization
>Student role

>Future directions

Free-electron laser


The manifold interactions of light and matter play a critical role in the drama of life, providing both the energy that makes life possible and the vision required to appreciate its beauty. In the last 200 years, scientists have learned a tremendous amount about the nature these interactions, but there are significant gaps in our understanding that the Free-Electron Laser (FEL) is helping to bridge.

How the FEL works

The free-electron laser (FEL) is an ideal instrument for charting many of the still unexplored regions of the electromagnetic spectrum. Like other lasers, its beam contains photons of a single color and so provokes very specific and intense responses in the objects that it strikes. Unlike ordinary lasers, the FEL beam can be tuned to a multiplicity of wavelengths, allowing scientists to study a variety of basic interactions.

Brain & eye surgery

In the popular science fiction series, Star Trek, Doctor McCoy routinely used lasers for surgery. So the good doctor would no doubt applaud the fact that researchers and surgeons at Vanderbilt's Keck Free-Electron Laser Center are laying the groundwork for eventually replacing the scalpel with laser light in both brain and eye surgery.

Monochromatic X-ray

According to the old saying, necessity is the mother of invention. But in the case of the monochromatic X-ray project it was not necessity but frustration that provided the impetus. Frank Carroll's frustration over the poor quality of mammograms led to the development of this new device that holds the promise for significantly improving both the quality and the safety of medical X-rays.

Protein characterization

Following the mapping of the human genome, the next "big thing" in biomedical science is likely to be proteomics: a newly coined term for identifying the structure and the role of the millions of proteins that are associated with the genome. Vanderbilt researchers are using the FEL beam to develop a new way to identify proteins that is faster and potentially less expensive than current methods.

Student role

On projects ranging from bone surgery to protein identification, students play a vital role in the life of Vanderbilt's Free-Electron Laser Center. Undergraduates get an invaluable introduction to the world of research and doctoral students hone their research skills and painstakingly construct the intellectual groundwork upon which their future scientific careers will be based.

Future directions
Biophotonics-the application of light to illuminate and manipulate the hidden worlds of living organisms-is the future direction that Vanderbilt's free-electron laser center is taking. "We envision ourselves as taking a leading role in exploring and applying new knowledge about the interactions of photons and biomaterials," says center director David Piston.


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