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Photonics spin-out company Scitech Precision launched

UK-based Scitech Precision, a company combining expertise in micro engineering and design to make ultra-precise parts for laser experiments, has been launched. Scitech Precision is a spin-out from the Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC) and will be located at STFC's Rutherford Appleton Laboratory (RAL) in Oxfordshire.

The company is based on 30 years of experience at the laboratory and supplies complex, multi-material assemblies or 'targets' for high-power laser experiments on laser facilities across the world. These micron scale targets act as the sample for investigations into the physics of extreme conditions comparable to temperatures and pressures at the centre of the sun; they are at the forefront of research into laser-induced fusion as a potential energy source and particle beam therapies for cancer treatment.

'The launch of a company such as Scitech Precision in the current climate shows how vibrant the laser research community is, and demonstrates the leading role played by the UK in this field,' said Professor Mike Dunne, director of STFC's Central Laser Facility. 'The parts made by the company will allow pioneering high-power laser research into fundamentally important areas such as security, healthcare and renewable energy.'

Dr Kate Ronayne, director of Scitech Precision, said: 'We're really excited that Scitech Precision can now use the expertise here at RAL to supply the international laser research community with the latest technology. The targets require extremely precise machining and assembly techniques, and often involve complex bespoke requirements. We believe the long track record of the Rutherford Appleton Laboratory in this field is invaluable to the company and that we can make a significant impact to the science goals of the community.'

Examples of areas where this technology is being demonstrated are in the development of the proposed HiPER project, which aims to develop an alternative renewable energy source in the future using laser fusion, and in currently operational experimental facilities such as the Gekko lasers at Insititute of Laser Engineering (ILE) in Japan and the Laboratoire pour l'Utilisation des Lasers Intenses (LULI) in France.

Professor Dimitri Batani, from the University of Milan in Italy, is one of Europe's leading scientists in this field, and oversees the experimental validation programme for HiPER. He said: 'Scitech Precision is working closely with us to develop novel target geometries, which allow us to understand the mechanisms behind inertial fusion energy and how best to harness this energy to create a sustainable fuel source for the future. The team's experience in understanding the scientific aims of an experiment and designing bespoke targets to achieve them is important to the HiPER project and for laser fusion research in general.'

Laser targets are tiny two- or three-dimensional objects typically no more than 50µm to a few millimetres in size. The targets often require a unique combination of high precision technologies to come together to create the unusual objects. Targets are typically assembled from a number of smaller individual components and a variety of materials including plastics, fibres, foils, metals and silicon. Once constructed, the tiny target is placed at the focus of the laser beam.

Different targets are used to investigate varying interactions in each experiment so the targets are assembled to meet the experiment's individual requirements. By changing the nature of the target, it is possible to carry out more sophisticated physics and open up new research areas. Research into cancer therapy, for example, uses thin foils to generate ion beams whereas cone targets are typically used in laser induced fusion experiments.

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