Accelerators have long been used to take photographs -- magnetic resonance imaging, MRI, evolved from the magnets physicists used to speed up subatomic particles.
Today, accelerators can take detailed images of individual molecules and even atoms in action.
The SLAC Linear Accelerator Center at Stanford University is now home to the Linac Coherent Light Source, which acts as an ultrafast strobe light taking stop-motion pictures of atoms and molecules. Last year, the venerable two-mile-long linear accelerator, where charmed quarks were discovered, was converted into a new kind of powerful laser that will create super-brilliant X-ray pulses.
The pulses are a billion times brighter than the light created by the most powerful synchrotron sources, and are used like flashes from a high-speed strobe light. The X-ray pulses have a shutter speed of less than 100 femtoseconds (100 femtoseconds = 1/10 of a trillionth of a second).
Other accelerators are already used to take pictures of human proteins at work, helping doctors understand diseases and medicines. Researchers at the Advanced Photon Source at the Department of Energy's Argonne National Laboratory have imaged insulin molecules and how they bind to human glycoprotein, in an effort to understand the prevention of juvenile diabetes.