Skip to main content

Watch the world's brightest X-ray explode water droplets in slow motion

Watch the world's brightest X-ray explode water droplets in slow motion


Yeah, science!

Share this story

Scientists wanted to better understand how X-rays might cause tiny explosions when being used to examine samples suspended in water. And so, naturally, they used the brightest X-ray in the world to explode a lot of water, illuminating up the scene with lasers and capturing images using high-resolution microscopes. The resulting footage is strange, wonderful, and abstract; showing droplets bursting, jets splitting, and umbrellas of water opening and closing on themselves. All completely scientifically of course.

"It could help us find new ways of using explosions"

In a press release, Claudiu Stan of Stanford University's PULSE Institute, which helped conduct the experiments, said the footage would help scientists avoid "unwanted effects" when X-raying samples suspended in liquid. "It could also help us find new ways of using explosions caused by X-rays to trigger changes in samples and study matter under extreme conditions," he added.

The researchers focused on how X-rays would affect two configurations of water: droplets and jets. To make each video they repeated the experiment hundreds of times, capturing just one image from each separate explosion before stringing them all together to make a movie. This is the first time such footage has ever been captured.

In the video above you can see how a droplet of water explodes after being hit by the X-ray. "This generates a cloud of smaller particles and vapor that expands toward neighboring drops and damages them. These damaged drops then start moving toward the next-nearest drops and merge with them." The footage spans just 9 millionths of a second in real time.

In this second video an X-ray punches a hole in a jet of water. From the press release: "This gap continues to grow, with the ends of the jet on either side of the gap beginning to form a thin liquid film. The film develops an umbrella-like shape, which eventually folds back and merges with the jet." Again, this is all happening in 9 millionths of a second.

Using this data, scientists will be able to better predict interactions between powerful X-rays and tiny amounts of water. Stan says the information will be used to "tune" jets of water so that they recover more quickly after being torn apart by X-rays. You can read about the experiments in more detail in a study published in Nature.