The most powerful laser in the US is currently in operation to send out its first pulses this week – allowing researchers to gain a new level of insight into plasma physics and particle accelerators.
Known as the Ultrashort Pulsed Laser System (ZEUS) from Zetawatt, it produces an ultrashort and extremely powerful pulse of only 25 Femto seconds. A femtosecond is a millionth of a second – or in other words, a femtosecond is for a second what a second is for about 31.71 million years.
As laser capabilities increase, it could eventually be used to study some of the most exotic phenomena in the universe on a laboratory scale: think the physics of a gamma-ray burst or Black hole.
“The ZEUS will be the highest peak power laser in the United States and among the most powerful laser systems in the world,” Astrophysicist Karl Kruchelnik says: from the University of Michigan.
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ZEUS will start on a smaller scale and then build up: the first part of the laser to be operated is known as the high-frequency target area, which uses pulses of higher frequency but lower energy.
This initial phase will require 30 terawatts (30 trillion watts) of power – an impressive amount, but only one percentage of what ZEUS will eventually be capable of. The force will be used to study a new type of X-ray imaging.
By sending infrared laser pulses from ZEUS into helium gas which then turns into plasma, the researchers want to create compact X-ray pulses from highly excited electron beams. These X-ray pulses can be used as a very precise and very accurate method for imaging soft tissues.
By the end of 2023, ZEUS should conduct large-scale experiments in fields spanning quantum physics, data security, materials science, remote sensing, and medical diagnostics — as well as studying some of the most extreme things in space.
“Magnetars, which are neutron stars with very strong magnetic fields around them, and things like active galactic nuclei surrounded by very hot plasma – we can recreate the exact physics of hot plasmas in very strong fields in the lab,” Electrical and computer engineer Louise Willingel says: from the University of Michigan.
One area of the laser uses what is known as colliding beam geometry, where The laser pulse is divided into two parts: one of the pulses can then be used to accelerate the electrons into a high-speed beam that can then be directed to interact again with the second laser pulse.
This results in a simulation a million times more powerful than the actual capacitance that ZEUS can generate with just one pulse.
The team behind the development and launch of ZEUS assures that the laser is available to researchers around the world. Scientists interested in using it can submit their proposals for approval.
“We look forward to growing the research community and bringing people in with new ideas for experiments and applications” Kruslnik says.
You can read more about ZEUS at Its official homepage.