Ultraintense 100-petawatt laser aims to uncover the secret of vacuum

A research team is beginning the development of a laser that will have a much higher peak power of 100 PW.

In August 2016, a petawatt (PW)-scale laser at the Shanghai Institute of Optics and Fine Mechanics under the Chinese Academy of Sciences broke the world record for the highest-peak-power laser pulse by producing a 5.3 PW peak-power pulse with a pulse duration of <30 fs. This year, the Chinese team, led by Ruxin Li, is beginning the development of a laser that will have a much higher peak power of 100 PW. The new laser is part of the Hard X-ray Free Electron Laser (XFEL) Facility, as reported in a topical workshop on high-repetition-rate XFEL physics and technology held at Shanghai in August 2017. The XFEL will deliver intense light at photon energies up to 15 keV.

The combination of the 100 PW laser and the XFEL will initiate exploration of the vacuum birefringence, one of the most prominent strong-field quantum-electrodynamic effects. Normally, a vacuum is thought of as completely empty, but according to quantum electrodynamics, it is actually full of virtual particles that continually appear and vanish. The 100 PW laser will also help in research on acceleration mechanisms that lead to ultrahigh-energy cosmic rays, simulation of black-hole physics, and the generation of new forms of matter. These scientific pursuits are of fundamental physical importance and can potentially enhance our knowledge of the nature of the vacuum and the origin of the universe.

The 100 PW laser system to be built in Shanghai will be based on the optical parametric chirped-pulse amplification (OPCPA) approach, with the aim of producing 1500 J pulse energies in 15-fs-long pulses, reaching a design intensity of higher than 1023 W/cm2. The laser will be available for research in 2024. Contact Ruxin Li at ruxinli@mail.shcnc.ac.cn.

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