Thijs van Oudheusden with his "poor man's X-FEL" (Photo: Bart van Overbeeke)
If you want to obtain moving images of high-speed molecular processes at an atomic scale, one of the best facilities in the world is the X-ray Free Electron Laser (X-FEL) at Stanford University. Should you wish to use it, however, you’ll have get on a waiting list, then bring your materials to its California home once it’s your turn. If you’re thinking of building your own, you’d better start saving now – Stanford’s laser reportedly cost several hundred million dollars to build, and the cost of a new European X-FEL has been set at one billion euro (US$1.3 billion). Researchers from the Netherlands’ Eindhoven University of Technology (TU/e), however, have recently announced the development of a tabletop “poor man’s X-FEL.” It performs some of the same key functions as the big laser, but costs under half a million euro (US$656,006).