X-ray free-electron lasers (XFELs) are used to create extreme matter conditions, enabling fundamental research in areas such as materials science, hot-dense-matter research and drug development. Currently, such lasers are behemoths, requiring kilometre-scale set-ups costing billions. Researchers at Strathclyde University in the UK have now put forward a new blueprint for a miniaturized XFEL based on a plasma wakefield accelerator (PWFA). The device, which would be just a few metres in size, could herald the advent of next-generation ultracompact XFELs, they say.

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