EU to build most powerful laser ever in Prague

Apr 28, 2011 by Bob Yirka report
ELI-Beamlines Facility

(PhysOrg.com) -- As part of the European Union's commitment to remaining at the forefront of technology, the European Commission (the governing body of the European Union) has laid out plans for three initial high powered lasers to be built in Eastern Europe with a fourth to come at a later date. The first superlaser in the project is to be built near Prague, with a goal of achieving exawatt class, which would make it at least a hundred times more powerful than anything that exists today.

The purpose of the Extreme Light (ELI), as its known, is first and foremost to serve as a research tool. Such a could be used to develop new cancer diagnosis and treatments as well as possible ways to deal with nuclear waste. In addition, the simple existence and experimentation with such a powerful laser could expand knowledge of nanoscience and molecular biology.

The ELI project was not easily won, as there were five countries lobbying to have it in their home states, and thereafter there was some bit of contention among the commissioners regarding feasibility and financing of the project. With the win, though, the Czech Republic will be sit at the forefront of optic and photonic research, adding to its already impressive résumé; for the past ten years, Prague has hosted Precision Automated Laser Signals (PALS), one of the premier laser systems in all of Europe. The installation will signal another milestone as well; the ELI venture will be the first big research project funded by the EU that will be located in an Eastern European country.

Slated to become operational by 2015, and located in Dolní Břežany, near Prague, the superlaser will operate using super-short pulses of very high energy particle and radiation beams, with each pulse lasting just 1.5 x 10-14 of a second, more than enough time to conduct high energy research experiments.

The installation in Prague will be followed up by projects in Hungary and then Romania, with each specializing in different areas of research; all of which will culminate in the development of a fourth super-super laser in an as yet to be decided location, which is expected to have twice the power of the original three lasers (though current plans have it comprised of 10 beams) which should add up to 200 petawatts of power; the theoretical limit for lasers.

The project is expected to cost in the neighborhood of €700 million.

Explore further: The first direct-diode laser bright enough to cut and weld metal

More information: www.extreme-light-infrastructure.eu/

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User comments : 13

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ShotmanMaslo
2.6 / 5 (5) Apr 28, 2011
There is a theoretical limit to laser energy? Didnt knew that. Why?
mrlewish
not rated yet Apr 28, 2011
I think that with high enough energy densities in the parts that make the laser itself matter starts to be actually produced stopping the cascaded that produces the lasing effect. That said there is nothing from stopping them from making more then a one laser and just crossing the beams.
WhiteJim
4.2 / 5 (5) Apr 28, 2011
don't ever cross the beams... ghost busters
Mikeal
not rated yet Apr 28, 2011
It is sad we both commented within the same minute.
jscroft
2.1 / 5 (7) Apr 28, 2011
@mrlewish: There's more to it than just "crossing the beams". Recall that the thing that makes a laser a laser is that the wave fronts are (a) coplanar (at a distance, anyway) and (b) all in phase. Unless your equal-power "crossed beams" are at least moderately in phase with one another, destructive interference will produce a LESS powerful combined result that either one individually.

There is also the question of angle of attack: unless your beams are properly collimated, the wave fronts will not only be out of phase but will be out of coplanarity... so instead of a single, smoothly attenuating beam, you will have an interference fringe containing regions of high and low power whose size and movement will depend on microscopic alignments and displacements of your emitters.
fmfbrestel
5 / 5 (2) Apr 28, 2011
"(though current plans have it comprised of 10 beans)"\\

Besides the obvious misspelling, they are already planning on combining beams. So yes it is difficult, no one is saying it would be child's play, but it is obviously possible.

So the real question is whether the 200 petawatt theoretical limit is in beam production, or final beam strength?
sstritt
1 / 5 (2) Apr 28, 2011
I think that with high enough energy densities in the parts that make the laser itself matter starts to be actually produced stopping the cascaded that produces the lasing effect. That said there is nothing from stopping them from making more then a one laser and just crossing the beams.

If what you say is true, that would pertain to the laser amplifier material. I don't see why that should be a fundamental limit on the laser beam strength. Anyway, shouldn't any limit be expressed in power/unit area?
StandingBear
2.3 / 5 (3) Apr 28, 2011
When do we get to build a big honkin space gun?
wiyosaya
1 / 5 (1) Apr 28, 2011
There is a theoretical limit to laser energy? Didnt knew that. Why?

Since this is a pulsed device, my best, and somewhat educated, guess at this is that it has to do with the power density in the laser material. If there is too much energy in the material, the material will melt, vaporize, shatter, etc.

...That said there is nothing from stopping them from making more then a one laser and just crossing the beams.

This is a complicated problem. AFAIK, there are phase conjugation devices on the market, but handling that level of power would be a challenge.

The NIF in the US has handled this by lengthening the duration of the pulse, amplifying it, then "compressing" the duration of the pulse. I imagine that there is a power-handling limit to this process as well since the laser energy must travel through some material.

Give them time, they may find that they can exceed this limit.
GSwift7
3 / 5 (4) Apr 28, 2011
I have never heard of a theoretical limit on lasers either.

I did some digging, and it turns out that the limit theory is based on a single experimental event that took place at SLAC. They shot a partical beam into a laser and it apparently generated enough matter to ruin the vaccum and kill the laser. From that, they crunched the numbers and tried to estimate the energy you would need to create the effect with just a laser by itself.

http://physicsbuz...mit.html

It sounds like somebody really needs to verify this experimentally again though. Getting a proper constraint on it, if there is a limit, should teach us some important physics.

The Death Star Isn't dead. You could use lots of lasers in stead of one big one. Just don't cross the beams and your death ray is okay, litterally.
hikenboot
1 / 5 (1) Apr 28, 2011
all they need is to add 10000 times that strength and they should be able to rip a hole in space time and jump into the next closest universe!!!
VOR
not rated yet Apr 30, 2011
a power limit for lasers seems to imply a beam width limit or constant. I know nothing about lasers. Someone please explain the beam width.
GSwift7
1 / 5 (2) May 02, 2011
a power limit for lasers seems to imply a beam width limit or constant. I know nothing about lasers. Someone please explain the beam width


Look up beam parameter product on wiki for a primer. In a nutshell, there's a tradeoff between intensity and quality. Also look up the related terms of Gaussian beam and M squared. The limit they are talking about above is related to the theoretical limits of the BPP, or the best combination of quality versus intensity achievable. If you are talking about the size of a resonation chamber, then I would gess the limits are more mechanical in nature due to the dificulty of creating high quality optics on large scales and dealing with imperfections which should increase exponentially as size increases?

Did that help at all? I'm more of an aerospace guy than an optics guy, but those terms should get you started. You should read the wiki pages in stead of trusting my summary. My summary is way over-simplified.