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  1. Abstract The longitudinal coherence of X-ray free-electron lasers (XFELs) in the self-amplified spontaneous emission regime could be substantially improved if the high brightness electron beam could be pre-bunched on the radiated wavelength-scale. Here, we show that it is indeed possible to realize such current modulated electron beam at angstrom scale by exciting a nonlinear wake across a periodically modulated plasma-density downramp/plasma cathode. The density modulation turns on and off the injection of electrons in the wake while downramp provides a unique longitudinal mapping between the electrons’ initial injection positions and their final trapped positions inside the wake. The combined use of a downramp and periodic modulation of micrometers is shown to be able to produces a train of high peak current (17 kA) electron bunches with a modulation wavelength of 10’s of angstroms - orders of magnitude shorter than the plasma density modulation. The peak brightness of the nano-bunched beam can be O (10 21 A/m 2 /rad 2 ) orders of magnitude higher than current XFEL beams. Such prebunched, high brightness electron beams hold the promise for compact and lower cost XEFLs that can produce nanometer radiation with hundreds of GW power in a 10 s of centimeter longmore »undulator.« less
    Free, publicly-accessible full text available December 1, 2023