Brightest vacuum ultraviolet source to get 100 times brighter



The world’s brightest source of ultraviolet light is set to get 100 times brighter thanks to new funding from the European Research Council (ERC).

Heriot-Watt University’s physics Professor John Travers has been awarded a 2.4 million euro Consolidator Grant from the ERC.

The HISOL is the world’s brightest ultrafast vacuum ultraviolet source, outperforming building-scale free-electron lasers.

Over the next five years, Travers will work with colleagues to increase HISOL’s brightness 100-fold, in a project called XSOL.

The breakthrough could lead to new physics at the forefront of light-matter interaction. 

Professor John Travers said: “Creating this new light source will reveal exciting and essential new science. It will give us the ability to see the structure and dynamics of molecules which are key to the chemistry of life. 

“I will reach this brightness with the shortest pulses ever used in the world, less than 1 million billionths of a second, which should reveal new physics at the fastest timescale.”

Travers’ XSOL light-source will be tabletop-sized, in contrast with the building-scale national facilities that offer comparable brightness. He hopes this will make it more accessible to institutions around the world. 

Travers previously held an ERC starting grant, which allowed him to set up the Laboratory of Ultrafast Physics and Optics (LUPO) at Heriot-Watt. 

In 2019 he reported the HISOL breakthrough in Nature Photonics

ERC President Professor Jean-Pierre Bourguignon said: “To prepare for the challenges of tomorrow, Europe must stick to the vision of investing in frontier research, which has proved time and again its crucial added value.”

Professor Travers is one of just over 300 researchers awarded 2020 ERC Consolidator Grants, which is part of the EU’s current research and innovation programme Horizon 2020. 


Sarah McDaid