Hi world... after 13 days of Quinn flying solo on the blog I figured I'd make an appearance.
I spent most of the afternoon today at a joint workshop of the RIKEN Kobe and Harima institutes, where they discussed biological applications of the new X-ray free electron laser coming online at the Harima SPring-8 facility (http://xfel.riken.jp/eng/index.html). In what has got to be one of the most intricate scientific acronym puns I've ever seen, the facility will be named SACLA -- SPring-8 Angstrom Compact Free Electron Laser -- a name which is intentionally designed to be mispronounced as sakura, which is Japanese for (of course) "cherry blossom." Some people just stopped fighting it and called it the sakura facility. Cherry blossoms are traditionally associated with spring, and SACLA will be located right next door to the Harima SPring-8 (Super Photon Ring - 8 GeV), creating a symphony of punniness that virtually demands that beamtime proposals be written in haiku.
Anyway the director of the project, Tetsuya Ishikawa, gave an introductory talk at the beginning where he said that all the pieces were in place and SACLA should be generating XFEL emission sometime this month. At the very end, he got up again and said that he'd gotten a message during the meeting that confirmed that SACLA was generating laser emission. Well ahead of schedule. Apparently he was under strict instructions to call Noyori-sensei (the president of RIKEN) before telling us. You usually don't get that kind of dramatic announcements in small scientific meetings -- apparently Japan now has an XFEL.