It is important to damage caused by swift heavy ions (SHIs) in nuclear materials. However, investigations that utilize SHIs are both costly and time consuming due to limitations on available beam time at the SHI beam facilities located only overseas. Ultrafast lasers can be used as a surrogate for SHI beams as they are commonly used in laboratories throughout the country, and the general response of materials to ultrafast lasers is mechanistically similar to that of SHIs. Ultrafast lasers may be a useful alternative to SHI irradiation from both a practical and theoretical standpoint: practical in the sense that irradiation by ultrafast lasers may provide for relatively rapid screening of novel materials before more difficult SHI irradiations are completed; and theoretical in the sense that ultrafast laser irradiations can provide insights into the physical mechanisms underlying the radiation response of materials to SHI irradiation. The use of ultrafast lasers in SHI studies could be extended to ultrafast time-resolved x-ray diffraction experiments due to the large spot size and time resolution of the laser. Probing of materials at the atomic scale with ~50 fs resolution can shed light on the dynamic, non-equilibrium behavior of materials in ways not possible with SHIs alone.