What is one mile long and can take high-speed images of atoms?

Answer: the biggest — and newest — laser gun in the world.

by / September 1, 2017
Screenshot taken from Goldfinger (1964)/ Eon Productions Film Buff Online

Capable of shooting 27,000 laser pulses per second — which is 200 times more than the second-highest performer, located in California — the European X-ray Free Election Laser (XFEL) will begin operating in September. But before you start imagining a real-life version of the laser scene from the James Bond film Goldfinger, you should know that this laser is not intended to shoot at people.

According to the XFEL website, the laser “will allow scientists to map atomic details of viruses, film chemical reactions, and study the processes in the interior of plants.” By emitting so many tiny, high-energy X-ray pulses, the laser works very much like a movie camera, if movie cameras were capable of capturing high-speed phenomena at the atomic level.

The city of Hamburg, Germany, has been heralding the arrival of the device since Monday by shining five lasers toward its next-door neighbor Schenefeld — the location where the European XFEL will be housed.