New Laser Network Gives Scientists Access to High-Intensity, Ultrafast Lasers

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LINCOLN, Neb., Nov. 2, 2018 — Nine institutions across the country have joined a new U.S.-wide national research network called LaserNetUS. The collaboration includes the Department of Energy’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, University of Texas at Austin (UT Austin), Ohio State, Colorado State, Michigan, Nebraska-Lincoln, SLAC National Laboratory, University of Rochester’s Laboratory for Laser Energetics (LLE), and Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory.

University of Rochester’s Laboratory for Laser Energetics (LLE). Courtesy of LaserNetUS.
University of Rochester’s Laboratory for Laser Energetics (LLE). Courtesy of LaserNetUS.

The project is funded by the U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Fusion Energy Sciences within the Office of Science and will receive $6.8 million over the next two years.

The nine facilities will provide U.S. scientists with improved access to high-intensity, ultrafast lasers. These lasers have a broad range of uses in basic research, manufacturing, and medicine. “This has the potential for huge leverage of existing and future investments in laser facilities,” said Wim Leemans, director of Berkeley Lab’s Accelerator Technology and Applied Physics Division. “Researchers across the U.S. have great ideas for discovery science that depend on lasers, and LaserNetUS can connect them with beamtime at sources that meet their needs.”

High-intensity, ultrafast lasers can generate high-energy particles for high-energy physics research (being explored at the BELLA Center) or intense x-ray pulses to probe matter as it evolves on ultrafast timescales. Also, lasers and laser-based systems can cut materials precisely, generate intense neutron bursts to evaluate aging aircraft components, and potentially deliver tightly focused radiation therapy to tumors, among other uses.

“As the largest university-based laser facility in the world, the Omega Laser Facility at the LLE will bring unique energy, intensity, versatility, reliability, and diagnostic capability to the LaserNetUS network,” said Mike Campbell, director of the LLE.

The U.S. Department of Energy’s SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory has also joined LaserNetUS, including the Matter in Extreme Conditions (MEC) laser facility at SLAC’s Linac Coherent Light Source (LCLS).

SLAC’s Matter in Extreme Conditions Instrument at the Linac Coherent Light Source will offer optical laser-only time to visiting scientists as a part of the LaserNetUS network. High intensity lasers at MEC, coupled with the LCLS x-ray laser, have been used to study extremely hot, dense matter found at the centers of stars and giant planets.

The petawatt-class lasers of the LaserNetUS partners use a technology known as “chirped pulse amplification,” which was pioneered by two of the winners of this year’s Nobel Prize in physics. These lasers fire off bursts of light shorter than a tenth of a trillionth of a second.

“UT Austin has become one of the international leaders in research with ultra-intense lasers, having operated one of the highest-power lasers in the world for the past 10 years,” said Todd Ditmire, director of UT Austin’s Center for High Energy Density Science, which houses the Texas Petawatt Laser. “We can play a major role in the new LaserNetUS network with our established record of leadership in this exciting field of science.” 

LaserNetUS will hold a nationwide call for proposals for access to the network’s facilities. The proposals will be peer reviewed by an independent panel. This process will allow any researcher in the U.S. to request time on one of the high-intensity lasers at the LaserNetUS host institutions.

Published: November 2018
BusinessLasersResearch & Technologypetawatt laserseducationDepartment of Energy’s Lawrence Berkeley National LaboratoryUniversity of Texas at AustinOhio StateColorado StateMichiganNebraska-LincolnSLAC National LaboratoryLawrence Berkeley National LaboratoryLawrence Livermore National LaboratoryLaserNetUS

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