By Heather Rock Woods
The growing new field of ultrafast science—which scrutinizes very
tiny things that move and change at super fast speeds—gained momentum
October 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 SLAC Faculty and the Applied Physics
Faculty in the Stanford School of Humanities and Sciences.
Bucksbaum is an atomic physicist, and until recently directed the
National Science Foundation’s Center for the Advancement of Frontiers in
Optical Coherent Ultrafast Science (FOCUS) at the University of
Michigan. He remains the Peter Franken Distinguished University
Professor of Physics in Michigan this academic year. He will work
part-time at the Stanford center and part-time in Michigan during this
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; will capture the structural rearrangements of
atoms in reactions like photosynthesis; will create and probe extreme
states of matter 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.
“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.”
After graduating from Harvard, Bucksbaum 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. 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.”
The Ultrafast Science Center, one of three main activities within the
new SLAC Photon Science Directorate, received its first funding this
fiscal year from the DOE Office of Science. 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
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