Picture of FEL Center

Welcome to the W. M. Keck Vanderbilt

Free-electron Laser Center

Picture of FEL


Budget Cuts Cause FEL Center to Shutdown

From Director Dave Piston:

In November 2007, the Department of Defense appropriations bill significantly reduced the allocation for the Medical Free-electron Laser (FEL) program. After discussions with the University leadership, we have made the decision to begin shutting down the operation of the Mark III mid-IR FEL in June 2008. Several key military medicine projects will continue through 2008, and it is our top priority to support our graduate student trainees until they finish their degrees.

The entire FEL research team, and in particular the Center staff, is extremely proud of their accomplishments over the last 20 years, including the first human surgery with the FEL, over 500 publications in peer-reviewed journals, and more than 50 patents. The breadth and depth of this research is well beyond what could have been predicted when the center started in 1988.

Dave Piston, FEL Center Director

Main office, 615-343-6146

The Center is dedicated to the production of photons at many different wavelengths for use in a variety of experiments. This includes the Free-electron laser (FEL) which can deliver 2-9 micron infrared light for use in experiments that include surgery (especially the cutting of soft tissue at 6.45 micron), mass spectroscopy of large biomolecules (MALDI), near-field imaging (NSOM), and study of semiconductor bands and properties.

There is currently a dedicated monochromatic xray device based on Compton back-scattering that is being constructed, following the success of a proof-of-principle experiment in which the FEL laser was backscattered off the FEL electron beam . This will be useful for imaging, especially low-dose, high-contrast imaging of tumors. It should also be interesting, as all the xrays arrive within 8 ps, to image fast moving machinery like turbine engines. The Center also runs two optical parametric generators that cover wavelength ranges from UV to the mid-infrared. The micropulse structure mimics that of the FEL, with much lower average power, and with longer times between micropulses to allow cooling.

Imaging, in many different ways and applications, is also a focus of the Center. The Center and collaborators run a near-field scanning optical microscope currently adapted to the FEL, a scanning optical coherence tomography system useful for in vivo imaging, and several conventional optical microscopes. The Center also has plans to build a two-photon confocal microscope.


410 24th Avenue
Nashville, TN 37212
Box 1816, Stn B
Nashville, TN 37235

Comments and questions can be addressed to



Valid HTML 4.01!

Updated January 18, 2008. Bill Gabella