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
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
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.
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.
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.
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
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.