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Press Release: First Director Appointed for New Stanford Ultrafast Science Center

Date Issued: October 17, 2005




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The growing new field of ultrafast science—which scrutinizes very tiny things that move and change at super fast speeds—gains momentum Oct. 17 with the announcement of the first director for the new Stanford Ultrafast Science Center.

Phil Bucksbaum has joined the Stanford faculty to lead the center, which is a partnership between Stanford and the U.S. Department of Energy. Bucksbaum will be a member of the Stanford Linear Accelerator Center (SLAC) Faculty and the Applied Physics Faculty in the School of Humanities and Sciences.

Bucksbaum is an atomic physicist, and until now, director of the National Science Foundation's Center for the Advancement of Frontiers in Optical Coherent Ultrafast Science (FOCUS) at the University of Michigan, where he remains the Peter Franken Distinguished University Professor of Physics this academic year.

The center is bringing together scientists with distinct expertise to develop groundbreaking experiments for, and push the performance of, a revolutionary machine—the Linac Coherent Light Source (LCLS)—that combines x-ray and laser properties. By acting like a lightning-quick strobe light, this machine will essentially make x-ray motion pictures of phenomena no other instrument—or eye—can see.

LCLS, the world's first hard x-ray free electron laser, will begin operating at SLAC in 2009. To capture the phenomenally small and fast in action, LCLS will create extremely brilliant x-ray pulses that last mere quadrillionths of a second (called femtoseconds).

"I'm very excited to be doing this," said Bucksbaum. "The scientists our center will attract will together develop pioneering experiments and exceptional machine capabilities that will advance our understanding in myriad fields and bring wonderful benefits to society."

LCLS experiments will offer new ways of studying and constructing nanotechnology devices, which are becoming a backbone of future industry and technology; will be able to capture the structural rearrangements of atoms in reactions like photosynthesis and catalysis; will create and probe extreme states of matter (types of plasmas), found in the cores of giant planets and proto-stars; and will explore how proteins function as the engines of life, which is highly relevant to health and disease as well as to Department of Energy missions to develop clean energy sources.

"The Ultrafast Science Center is the perfect tool to develop the unprecedented opportunities in ultrafast science, and Phil Bucksbaum is the ideal scientist to lead this initiative," said SLAC Director Jonathan Dorfan. "The new center is part of the strong foundation for photon science at SLAC and on the rest of the Stanford campus."

Photons are light particles, and come in varying wavelengths and energies that include x-rays and visible light. The Ultrafast Science Center is one of three main activities within the new SLAC Photon Science Directorate.

"Phil Bucksbaum is an international leader in ultrafast science, and will bring his wonderful expertise to this most exciting opportunity," said Raymond L. Orbach, Director of the Department of Energy's [or DOE's] Office of Science. "The LCLS will open a new frontier with promise of untold proportion. His leadership will lead to remarkable new discoveries. We welcome him to the DOE Office of Science family."

The Office of Science funds SLAC and the Ultrafast Science Center, which received its first funding—$4.7 million for three years—this fiscal year. In addition, in January the W. M. Keck Foundation awarded Stanford $1 million for developing research programs in the center focused in the area of ultrafast chemistry.

"Phil Bucksbaum is a world-class expert in atomic-molecular-optical physics, particularly as it relates to ultrafast processes and quantum control," said Keith Hodgson, SLAC deputy director and head of the SLAC Photon Science Directorate. "He's done a spectacular job of leading the development of the Michigan research center, and his leadership skills will be fantastic for us."

After graduating from Harvard, he received his doctoral degree from the University of California-Berkeley. He did his postdoctoral work, and became a principal investigator at AT&T Bell Laboratories before joining the Michigan faculty in 1990. He is a member of the National Academy of Sciences. His interest in the ultrafast world goes beyond x-ray science.

"My main research interest is fundamental interactions between light and matter at the atomic and molecular levels, and especially the control of quantum systems using ultrafast laser fields," he said. "I develop new sources of ultrafast laser light in the infrared, visible, ultraviolet, and x-ray regions of the light spectrum."

Background Information on the Stanford Ultrafast Science Center


The Ultrafast Science Center is a partnership between Stanford and the U.S. Department of Energy to provide a central home and world leadership in ultrafast and short wavelength science and technology. Ultrafast science examines the fast movements and transformations of atoms, molecules and materials that take place in mere femtoseconds (quadrillionths of a second).


The center's goal is to gather and inspire world-leading physicists, chemists, biologists and materials scientists with a common interest in ultrafast phenomena. Together, this outstanding scientific talent will develop experiments for, and extend the research capabilities of, the premier tool for ultrafast x-ray science—the Linac Coherent Light Source (LCLS), currently under construction at the Department of Energy's Stanford Linear Accelerator Center (SLAC). LCLS will be the world's first hard x-ray free electron laser, essentially a machine to make x-ray motion pictures of phenomena no other instrument—or eye—can see.


Directed by Stanford/SLAC Professor Phil Bucksbaum, the center is expected to eventually include approximately 20 Stanford faculty members from SLAC and the Schools of Humanities and Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine, as well as graduate students, postdoctoral students, and visiting researchers.


The center received its first funding in the 2005-2006 fiscal year. The Office of Basic Energy Sciences in the Department of Energy's Office of Science is spending $4.7 million over three years for the initial development of the Ultrafast Science Center. In addition, the W. M. Keck Foundation awarded Stanford $1 million in January 2005 for developing research programs in the center focused in the area of ultrafast chemistry. Phil Bucksbaum was appointed director on Oct. 17, 2005.


The center has space on Stanford University campus and at SLAC. In 2008, the center's main home will move to the Central Lab Office Complex, part of the civil construction for LCLS.


The four core areas of the center are atomic physics, chemistry, materials science and structural biology. In its initial years, the center will focus on ultrafast structural and electronic dynamics in materials science, the generation of laser pulses lasting only attoseconds (quintillionths of a second), imaging of single molecules and non-periodic materials, and the study of ultrafast light-induced chemical reactions.

by Heather Rock Woods

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