TECHNOLOGY NEWS

Laser with energy of a power station boosts European research facility

12 August 2014

Laser with energy of a power station boosts European research facility
Test shot fired from the laser diode systems during installation. Credit: STFC


A laser that can generate pulses of energy equivalent to that of a power station has been supplied to the Institute of Physics (IoP) in the Czech Republic by the UK’s Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC). Thanks to the contract, the Czech Republic’s new European Extreme Light Infrastructure (ELI) institute now boasts world-class laser capability, which is expected to lead to the development of new laser technologies for the optical, vacuum, electronics and other industries.

The laser amplifier head, which was supplied for £2.2 million, was delivered to the ELI facility as part of the first major contract of its kind between STFC’s Centre for Advanced Laser Technology and Applications (CALTA) and the Czech Republic’s IoP. The installation was completed at the end of July by Bedrich Russ, chief scientist from ELI Beamlines, and Justin Greenhalgh, manager of CALTA.

The laser technology builds on the world-leading DiPOLE laser technology developed by the STFC, which combines high pulse energy with high repetition rate. ‘DiPOLE technology not only enables high power laser operation at high repetition rates of many pulses per second,’ explained Professor John Collier, director of the CLF. ‘But, also demonstrates high efficiency operation, with at least 10 per cent efficiency in producing laser power from electricity, compared to conventional systems that are typically much less than one per cent efficient.’

In the laser supplied to the ELI facility in July, ceramic materials inside the head allow light to be amplified to immense power for brief instants of time, and it is capable of supplying bursts of 10 joules of laser energy ten times every second (see image 1).

Image 1: The amplifier head installed at the ELI facility. The beamsplitters which steer light from the laser diodes into the laser head can be seen. Credit: STFC

‘We are delighted with the outcome of this highly successful project and look forward to putting the laser head to use in one the four massive laser systems that make up ELI Beamlines here in the Czech Republic,’ said Russ. ‘Having access to this cutting edge technology is helping us to produce a state of the art facility for scientists from around the world to use. The excellent level of co-operation between STFC and IoP has set a solid foundation for future work.’

ELI will become a world-class laser facility open to academic researchers to do advanced science experiments. The ELI lasers will operate at ten times a second (ten hertz) and amplify ultrashort pulses of laser energy to power levels above one petawatt (a billion megawatts), the instantaneous equivalent of two million power stations per pulse. This is an ambitious step forward compared to earlier generations of petawatt lasers, such as the Vulcan laser in the Central Laser Facility at the STFC’s Rutherford Appleton Laboratory, which produces only one laser pulse every 20 minutes.

Being able to operate high power lasers at high repetition rate is key to developing applications such as medical imaging and radiotherapy for industrial use. ‘The laser platform will benefit new build laser infrastructure projects, including ELI, and will drive new laser-based applications in industry, including advanced material treatments and energy production,' professor Collier  concluded.

Further Information

STFC

ELI Beamlines