ANN ARBOR – The National Science Foundation recently awarded the University of Michigan’s 3 petawatt ZEUS laser $ 18.5 million to make it an international user facility.
The federally funded ZEUS will begin experiments in early 2022.
“We look forward to the exciting experiences that this new facility will make possible,” said Karl Krushelnick in a statement, director of the Center for Ultrafast Optical Science, where construction of ZEUS is now complete.
In 1996, the United States built the world’s first petawatt laser, but has since fallen behind on the world stage as other countries pursue more ambitious systems.
Europe has two 10 petawatt lasers while China, which has a 5.3 petawatt laser, plans to build a 100 petawatt system.
“Although the new laser does not contain as much raw power, its approach will simulate a laser about a million times more powerful than its 3 petawatts,” read a statement from UM.
The researchers will use ZEUS to study extreme plasmas – charged gases that form when electrons break free from their atoms.
“Extreme plasma made with ‘tabletop’ laser technology offers a cheaper alternative for basic physics research to large-scale particle accelerators, which have cost billions of dollars to build,” said the head of ZEUS Franko Bayer construction project in a statement. . “We are very excited because this support allows the US plasma science community, and us at UM, to develop long-term research plans. “
Experiments using ZEUS are expected to contribute to a fundamental understanding of physics and the universe, including how black holes can produce jets, how materials transform at rapid time scales, and how to better develop highly efficient particle accelerators. used for medical treatment and imaging.
One of his first experiments will turn gas atoms into plasma by sending ultrashort laser pulses every second into gas targets using half a petawatt of power. Over two years, the system will slowly scale up to full power and begin user operations and signing experiences in October 2023.
“This setup will eventually send the laser beam at full power into a vacuum chamber where the laser beam will be focused on a gas target with a colliding electron beam traveling in the opposite direction, simulating a much higher power zetawatt laser. “, we read in a press release from UM. “While a petawatt is a quadrillion watts, or a 1 followed by 15 zeros, a zetawatt is 1 quintillion watts, or a 1 followed by 21 zeros.”
Therefore, ZEUS stands for “Zetawatt Equivalent Ultrashort Pulse Laser System”.
ZEUS’s long-term plan is for it to operate as an open user facility as America’s most powerful laser for at least a decade.
As the facility reaches full capacity, NSP will increase its funding, providing $ 5.5 million in fall 2025, which happens to be the final year of the award.
International experimental teams will travel to UM to conduct experiments with ZEUS. Due to its federal funding status, researchers whose proposals are accepted by an external panel of engineers and scientists will be able to conduct research at the facility at no cost.
“We look forward to the dramatically increased capacity and access to the highest intensity lasers that the NSF ZEUS user facility will provide to the US and international scientific community,” said Vyacheslav (Slava) Lukin, NSF Program Director for plasma physics.
“From the fundamental physics of light and matter to powerful astrophysical phenomena like blazars and compact particle accelerators, users of the facility will be able to explore a wide range of phenomena while pushing the boundaries of technology. . “
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