Colorado State University Researchers Receive U.S. Department of Energy Grant to Develop X-ray Source

Note to Reporters: Photos of Randy Bartels and Sterling Backus are available with the news release at

Two Colorado State University laser researchers are working to develop an X-ray source for the U.S. Department of Energy that could be used in everything from X-ray free-electron lasers to biomedical imaging.

Randy Bartels, associate professor, and Sterling Backus, research faculty, in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, are working with KMLabs, a Boulder-based laser company that received the $150,000 DOE grant through the Small Business Innovation Research program. Backus works primarily as the vice president of research and development at KMLabs.

The researchers are also working to build small laser sources for biology and chemistry uses and shape laser pulses or control electromagnetic waves in a certain way so the scientists can manipulate and measure chemical or biological samples. Bartels heads Colorado State’s Laboratory for Ultrafast and Nonlinear Optics, where his research concentrates on the generation and control of short laser pulses and their use for the control of quantum dynamics – to precisely control the positions of atoms in molecules, for example.

Bartels and Backus also are working together on a $750,000 DOE grant received by KMLabs to develop mid-infrared ultrafast laser sources which can be used to generate X-rays and therefore capture images of biological cells. CSU’s portion of the grant is about $150,000.

KMLabs Inc., which produces very high-power ultrafast lasers, was founded by two University of Colorado professors – Margaret Murnane and Henry Kapteyn – who are close collaborators of Colorado State researchers in the multi-institutional National Science Foundation Extreme Ultraviolet Engineering Research Center. The center is based at Colorado State under the direction of University Distinguished Professor Jorge Rocca.

The company is working closely with Colorado State and other universities in the state to commercialize innovative technologies, Backus said.

Backus and Bartels have known each other for more than a decade: They met when Bartels was a student at the University of Michigan and Backus was a post-doctoral researcher. They worked together again at CU-Boulder as researchers in the Kapteyn-Murnane laboratory before Bartels joined Colorado State.

In February, Bartels was awarded a prestigious $1 million Keck Foundation grant to create a microscope that could, for the first time, “see” characteristics of molecules that tell other molecules what to do. Bartels, Backus and Mario Marconi, also a professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering at Colorado State, were elected earlier this year as Fellows in the Optical Society of America for their significant contributions to the advancement of optics.