If you think that Stanford's use of an super-bright X-ray laser to study the atom-level world is impressive, you're in for a treat. The school and its partners have started work on an upgrade, LCLS-II (Linac Coherent Light Source II), whose second laser beam will typically be 10,000 times brighter and 8,000 times faster than the first -- up to a million pulses per second. The feat will require an extremely cold (-456F), niobium-based superconducting accelerator cavity that conducts electricity with zero losses. In contrast, the original laser shoots through room-temperature copper at a relatively pedestrian 120 pulses per second.
The first X-ray laser isn't going away -- if anything, it'll be more useful than ever. The combination of the two beams will cover a wider energy range and help scientists study extremely small and extremely fast processes that either couldn't be recorded before or would take ages to examine in full. That, in turn, should lead to discoveries that advance electronics, energy and medicine. The big challenge is simply waiting for the upgrade, since it won't be ready until sometime in the early 2020s.