“Since the company’s beginning in 1965, VAT has focused on R&D applications and maintained close working relationships with virtually all of the world’s leading institutes,” states Martin Greuter, Sector Manager Coating, Scientific Instruments and Research at VAT. “One of VAT’s most recent – and most exciting – work was done for the SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory, where the world’s most powerful X-ray laser was built and operated.”

The Linac Coherent Light Source (LCLS) in Stanford started operations in 2009. The LCLS provided unprecedented images of the atomic world by producing strobe-like pulses just a few millionths of a nanosecond long – i.e., a few femtoseconds (10-15) long – and a billion times brighter than any previous X-ray source. This technology enabled SLAC to successfully produce crisp images of atoms in motion and unfolding chemical reactions. The laser is able to probe the properties of materials and even look inside living organisms to observe metabolic processes.

Major leap in X-ray laser performance

SLAC is now adding LCLS-II, an upgrade that will add a second X-ray laser beam. The LCLS-II will be 10,000 times brighter on average than the original LCLS,fire 8,000 times faster and accelerate from 120 pulses per second to one million pulses per second. Based on the notable reliability of the VAT valves already installed in the LCLS, VAT also provided the vacuum valves required for the higher performance levels of the LCLS-II.

Scientists expect LCLS-II to help sharpen our view into how nature works by taking ever more precise snapshots on an atomic level and on ultrafast timescales – to reveal and better understand fundamental processes.

“With LCLS-II, SLAC will be able to bring the motions of atoms into greater focus than ever before, you could call it: “atomic-level videos in high definition”! This will help scientists better understand crucial chemical reactions as they happen,” says Max Golovatiy, VAT Account Manager for SLAC. “The LCLS-II will significantly expand the range of experiments that can be performed at SLAC and serve as an important platform for the development of future transformative technologies.”

Vacuum valves play a key role in the LCLS-II

SLAC's LCLS-II upgrade relies on a range of VAT vacuum valves with proven designs for accelerators and synchrotrons. A majority of the selected vacuum valves were specifically tailored to the LCLS-II's high-energy environment. The focus was on extremely fast and precise valve functions for all fast-closing valves, based on the VAT Series 75 and 77, as well as long-term resistance to the extreme temperature and radiation conditions in the LCLS-II, which was achieved with all-metal valves based on the VAT Series 48 and Series 53. To help minimize maintenance requirements, the installed all-metal angle valves were designed with FLEX VATRING technology to allow repeated, hermetic closing under UHV conditions, usually possible only to a limited extent with classic all-metal seals.

“Our vacuum valves play a key role in the operation of the SLAC accelerators,” adds Max Golovatiy. “Between each of the stations that describe the LCLS and LCLS-II processes, VAT valves regulate and isolate various process parameters – very precisely and reliably – under the extreme pressure, temperature and radiation conditions prevalent in the ultra-high vacuum environment. VAT valves help determine, to a surprising degree, the analytic capabilities of the LCLS systems.”

The vacuum valves developed by VAT for SLAC are an important part of the efforts by various research facilities around the world to expand and refine the capabilities of their research labs. Optimized vacuum valve designs and high-performance valves can help make research experiments more precise, indirectly providing a critical contribution to improved research results. Ultimately, researchers will be able to gather more precise information to better understand matter and energy at the electronic, atomic, and molecular level – a key goal of the LCLS-II project.

“We strive to develop ever more precise vacuum valve solutions,” concludes Martin Greuter. “That’s how VAT helps to expand the frontiers of knowledge.”