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Physicists Propose a New Laser System that Could Revolutionize the World

Mar 28, 2013 01:08 PM EDT
A Eurofighter Typhoon is seen in the middle of a laser show during the presentation and delivery of the 100th Eurofighter to the German airforce at headquarter of Military Air Systems Centre Cassidian in Manching near Ingolstadt, southern Germany, February 28, 2013.
(Photo : REUTERS/Michaela Rehle)

A team of physicists is proposing a new laser system that could revolutionize not just the world of lasers, but the world itself.

Current lasers are capable of incredible bursts of energy, so great, in fact, that they are measured in petatwatts, or a thousand times the power of all the world's power plants. This is a force capable of reducing the lifetime of nuclear waste from as much as 100 thousand years to 10 or 20, or democratizing proton therapy for cancer treatment, according to a news release from the University of Southamptom.

However, today's lasers are not currently used for either of these things and the reason lies in their degree of inefficiency.

Current models of ultra-intense lasers are slow, with most operating at a rate of one laser pulse per second. To be effective, this number needs to increase to the realm of tens of thousands of times per second. 

Furthermore, as it stands, the lasers' require much more input power than they actually produce.

"As practical applications would require output powers in the rage of tens of kilowatts to megawatts, it is economically not feasible to produce this power with such a poor efficiency," states the news release.

However, with the financial backing of the European Union, a group called the International Coherent Amplification Network (ICAN) is working on a new laser system based in a network of fiber amplifiers and telecommunication components.

Specifically, the group's goal includes "an implementation plan and a road map pointing out the most significant technical roadblocks, proposed solutions, manufacturing methods and lobbying strategies to increase international membership, awareness, market study and business plan."

Thus far, the group has made several steps in realizing their objective, including discovering the possibility of accelerating particles to high energy over areas short enough to be measured in centimeters rather than kilometers or miles.

"This feature is of paramount importance when we know that today high energy physics is limited by the prohibitive size of accelerators, of the size of tens of kilometres, and cost billions of euros," said the consortium's leader, Gerar Mourou of Ecole polytechnique. "Reducing the size and cost by a large amount is of critical importance for the future of high energy physics."

The greatest difficulty facing the group, according to Bill Brocklesby from South Hamptom's Optoelectrics Research Center, is phasing the lasers within a fraction of a wavelength. However, even here group is making progress as, Brocklesby explains, "preliminary proof of concept suggests that thousands of fibres can be controlled to provide a laser output powerful enough to accelerate electrons to energies of several GeV at 10 khz repetition rate - an improvement of at least ten thousand times over today's state of the art lasers." 

Such a laser would, in turn, likely provide the power and efficiency to render the production of a source capable of reducing the lives of nuclear waste as has long been envisioned.

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