By Maggie Hudson

Like many of us, physicist Linda Young is working from home these days, though her home is more unique than most. “We live in Enrico Fermi’s old house,” she said. “I always hope that I’ll breathe some inspiration from being in this house, but I’m not sure if I have.”

Whether through Fermi’s inspiration or her own scientific prowess, Young has built an impressive research career studying the interactions of X-rays with matter. She leads the Atomic, Molecular, and Optical Physics Group at Argonne National Laboratory and is a part-time professor of physics at the University of Chicago. She previously served as the head of the X-ray Science Division at Argonne, overseeing experiments at one of the world’s top X-ray sources.

X-ray interactions with matter have a long and storied history, beginning with the discovery of X-rays in 1895. Scientists harnessed this very high energy form of light to reveal unseen secrets of our world, allowing us to glimpse the bones beneath our skin and to decode the unique arrangement of atoms that make up different molecules.

In the century since the discovery of X-rays, scientists have continuously improved the strength of X-ray light sources and used them in new ways to understand the makeup of materials. These experiments took a huge leap forward ten years ago, Young said, with the development of a new type of X-ray source, the X-ray free-electron laser (XFEL).

“Now, because we have X-ray free-electron lasers, new life has been injected into the topic of X-ray interactions with matter. We suddenly can have X-ray pulses that are of very short duration, very short wavelength, and very high intensity,” said Young.

Read more at UChicago Physical Sciences Division. 

Image by Wes Argestal, ANL