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Huge research grant aids laser-irradiated matter research

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A new £5m research grant from the EPSRC (Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council) will allow researchers at a number of British institutions to investigate the properties of laser irradiated matter.

Members of the Libra (Laser Induced Beams of Radiation and their Applications) consortium, including Queen’s University Belfast, the Rutherford Appleton Laboratory, Imperial College London among others, aim to learn how to develop new radiation sources that could be used for cancer research, semiconductor production and the rapid detection of hidden explosives.

The high-energy ionising radiation, consisting of ions, protons, neutrons, electrons and electromagnetic waves, arises when a powerful laser beam blasts a small piece of matter. The energy and duration of such bursts can be controlled by the thickness of the material and the length of the laser pulse – typically in the range of picoseconds.

It is hoped the research could lead to substantial reductions in the cost of ion radiotherapy for cancer, which could provide a more effective form of treatment that x-rays. The radiation could also be used to be useful in engineering diagnostics, and provide a cheaper alternative to particle accelerators.