Experimental set-up at the FLASH laser used to discover the new state of matterExperimental set-up at the FLASH laser used to discover the new state of matter.

University of Oxford scientists have created a transparent form of aluminum (across the pond, it’s “alumimium”) by bombarding the metal with the world’s most powerful soft X-ray laser. ‘Transparent aluminum’ is an exotic new state of matter that previously existed only in science fiction – specifically, in the original TV series, and again in Star Trek IV.

Aa short pulse from the  FLASH laser –  a new source of radiation ten billion times brighter than any existing synchrotron – “knocked out” a core electron from every aluminum atom in a sample, leaving the metal’s crystalline structure intact but turning the aluminum nearly invisible to extreme ultraviolet radiation. Potential applications include planetary science, astrophysics and nuclear fusion power.

A report of the research, “Turning solid aluminium transparent by intense soft X-ray photoionization,” appears in Nature Physics. (Note: abstract only if you don’t have a subscription or don’t purchase access.) The research was carried out by an international team led by Oxford University scientists Professor Justin Wark, Dr Bob Nagler, Dr Gianluca Gregori, William Murphy, Sam Vinko and Thomas Whitcher.

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