Yotta - exploring routes to the ultimate intensity regime

Lead Research Organisation: Queen's University of Belfast
Department Name: Sch of Mathematics and Physics

Abstract

The year 2010 marks 50 years since the invention of the laser and during this time lasers have undergone several major advances with far reaching impact on science and industrial/every-day applications. Historically each advance in laser performance (whether pulse duration, power or wavelength) was quickly followed by corresponding leaps in scientific progress. New regimes accessed with increasing intensity were non-linear optics, strong field physics and relativistic plasma science. Currently, the highest power lasers available are rated in Petawatt (10^15 W) units but on the horizon (5-10 years) systems are being designed to operate at the Exawatt (10^18 W) level with focused beam intensity exceeding 1024 Wcm-2 (Yotta = 10^24). This latest step change will unlock the door to the next predicted regime encompassing the exotic, unexplored world of non-linear QED (Quantum Electro-Dynamics) where electric fields are sufficiently large that it becomes possible, for example, to create particles (electron-hole pairs) from the vacuum. The over-arching strategic goal of this proposal is to ensure that the applicants' research grouping, within the Centre for Plasma Physics at QUB and known as PLIP (Plasma and Laser Interaction Physics), can build on its prominent international position in ultra-intense laser physics and on its current research interests and grow into a world leader in this emerging field. Interaction of high power lasers with matter generates a wide range of effects ranging from the generation of beams of multi-MeV particles to coherent beams of kilovolt photons. Increasing access to ultra-intense lasers allows the study of laser-plasma interactions in the relativistic regime and this opens up exciting opportunities to study and understand many non-linear processes. The general topic area has the potential to provide new approaches to many related areas including tumour therapy, space science and warm dense matter. The PLIP group covers the major research areas in the field and combines theory and experiment. Current topics include proton acceleration, harmonics from relativistic plasmas, warm dense matter (WDM), X-ray lasers (XRL) and plasma simulation.The group has recently established an internationally competitive laser facility. The TARANIS (Terawatt Apparatus for Relativistic and Non-linear Interdisciplinary Science) dual beam laser delivers 30J pulses in 1 nsec or 20J pulses in 1 psec synchronously from either beamline. Focussed intensities > 10^19 Wcm-2 enable a range of pump-probe type experiments to investigate phenomena on ultrafast timescales. Home-based work is used as a platform to access larger lasers, including FEL and XFEL systems, at national and international facilities and this approach has led to over 40 publications in Nature/Science/PRL in the last five years. There is scope to develop TARANIS to provide even higher intensity and during the platform grant period we will explore options to extend the specification to include a synchronised beamline delivering several Joule pulses with sub 10-fsec duration. Internationally, there are several very large projects (eg ELI, which promises Exawatt power levels) under development which offer access to even higher focussed intensities, approaching the regime (>10^24 Wcm-2) where non-linear QED effects are expected to become observable. Our main strategic aim is to use the flexibility of Platform Grant funding to explore some of the theoretical physics, practical problems and characterisation problems associated with this new era of scientific opportunity. A platform grant will provide a stable base within the PLIP group and the opportunity to plan ahead and engage in more speculative experiments which might otherwise not be funded. It is envisaged that we develop and consolidate a major team which will be seen as a strategic investment for UK science in the non-linear QED activity looming on the horizon.

Planned Impact

The platform grant (PG) will provide a valuable resource for the development and training of young researchers (YRs) in the field of high intensity laser-plasma interaction physics. In addition to the specialist skills and knowledge pertaining to lasers and plasmas, students and staff working on the programme will gain experience in problem solving, team-working, high level IT skills, data analysis, project planning, communication etc - all desirable and transferable to diverse career pathways. Past PhD and PDRA personnel from our group have contributed their expertise in a range of areas including industry, academia, government laboratories, teaching and finance. Immediate benefit will fall to the 3 named YRs who are currently on short-term contracts and showing great promise. They will have opportunities to gain more experience both in-house through work on Taranis and through access to national and international facilities. YRs funded on other grants, able to make useful contributions to our planned work, will be able to access bridging funds to further develop their career paths with us before moving on. We will also recruit excellent, new blood PDRA personnel to broaden the experiences of our team. During the 48 month grant period exceptional students will complete their PhDs and we can keep them as YRs if RM or other funding is not immediately available. All post-docs will be mentored carefully - indeed they will participate in the same appraisal schemes used at QUB for members of staff and designed, in particular, for career and professional development of junior staff. As our post-docs reach an appropriate stage in their development we will actively encourage them to apply for Career Acceleration Fellowships. The main focus of our planned work on the PG will be related to development of understanding of non-linear quantum electro-dynamic effects (NL-QED) but this must be accomplished in parallel with progressing current and planned activities which also relate to high intensity laser interactions. Taken together, our research output will be useful to others working in related areas and who (like us) will benefit from new basic knowledge disseminated but there are implications with longer timescales (perhaps 10-20 years) for impact on wider communities. For example, contributions to demonstrating suitability of laser-driven ion beams to tumour therapy will attract increasing interest from the medical community. Likewise, contributions to the physics associated with the fast ignitor approach to laser fusion has the possibility of leading to the eventual construction of power plants to help solve the energy crisis. Although our research is specific to laser-plasma physics, it has a common theme with many other branches of physics, chemistry, biology etc in that it relies on diagnostics incorporating camera-based detectors which require continual development and improvement. To this end we have worked with local scientific camera manufacturer Andor Technology in test and development work on customised cameras. We are currently in discussions regarding some novel designs which may help our research ability and boost their sales lines; we will explore these options further during the period of the PG. An indirect impact which we wish to achieve relates to the UK-wide problem of attracting young people into STEM subjects. We are aware that high profile local media releases (eg firsts achieved by QUB researchers) and ability to show off world leading facilities like the Taranis laser at Open Days and School Tours attracts local interest. We plan to develop facilities for preparing and showing research-related video clips in the Taranis Control Room area for such tours and visits in an attempt to interest more young people in Northern Ireland in Science/Physics. There is scope to do this in collaboration with staff (including Physics graduate contacts) in the Belfast W5 - Interactive Discovery Centre.

Publications

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Ahmed H (2016) Investigations of ultrafast charge dynamics in laser-irradiated targets by a self probing technique employing laser driven protons in Nuclear Instruments and Methods in Physics Research Section A: Accelerators, Spectrometers, Detectors and Associated Equipment

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Booth N (2011) Measuring fast electron distribution functions at intensities up to 1021Wcm-2 in Nuclear Instruments and Methods in Physics Research Section A: Accelerators, Spectrometers, Detectors and Associated Equipment

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Brown CR (2014) Evidence for a glassy state in strongly driven carbon. in Scientific reports

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Chen SN (2012) Focusing dynamics of high-energy density, laser-driven ion beams. in Physical review letters

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Corvan DJ (2014) Design of a compact spectrometer for high-flux MeV gamma-ray beams. in The Review of scientific instruments

 
Description The most significant achievements arising from this award were:
• Development of a new research strand in radiation physics on the nanoscale, leading to new interdisciplinary collaborations with science and industry. This provides the impetus of the PG renewal.
• Leadership in the development of non-linear QED physics using high intensity lasers.
• Providing the platform for the development of the EPSRC funded TARANIS-X project, which will see the world's most powerful few-cycle laser driving science at QUB.

We expand on these three central achievements and others below.

The platform grant has been extremely valuable in allowing the group to act in a coherent way with several main lines of research clearly identified yet at the same time coupled through science, manpower and longer-term objectives.

Radiation physics on the nanoscale
The first demonstration of ultra-fast ion damage in condensed matter was carried out with the TARANIS laser at QUB. (Key paper: Dromey et al, Nature Comm. 2015). For the first time, we have directly accessed the time resolved response of matter to ion irradiation, thus opening the exploration of the underlying physics relevant to hadron therapy. This work has already led to invited talks at numerous international conferences and scientific institutions.

In the related area of ion acceleration, we have identified theoretically and demonstrated in experiments a hybrid regime of radiation pressure acceleration in multi species targets coexisting with the standard sheath acceleration mechanism. Narrow-band peaks are observed in the spectra of the lighter species. The dependence of the peak energy on key parameters (laser fluence and target areal density) allows predicting how the process will scale with next generation laser sources to reach energies of interest for medical applications. A further series of experiments performed using nanometer thin foils shows that under certain conditions an intense driving laser can interact volumetrically with the target to provide ion acceleration in the relativistic transparency regime. Understanding this regime is critical for next generation ultrafast pulsed ion and x-ray sources that rely on the use of nanometer thick foils for their production. (Key papers: B.Qiao et al, Phys. Rev. Lett., 108, 115002 (2012); S.Kar et al, Phys. Rev. Lett., 109, 185006 (2012) ; S. Palaniyappan, et al. Nature Phys. 10, 763 (2012); D. Jung et al. New Journal of Physics 123035 (2013);D. Jung et al. New Journal of Physics 023007 (2013)

In the area of high dose-rate radiobiology, we have progressed our programme of research by carrying out the first cell irradiation experiments employing protons at dose rates of 10^9 Gy/s (many orders of magnitude higher than seen before). The results show that, even at these extreme dose rates, the biological response of the cell is consistent with known results in radiobiology, a first step towards the validation of laser-driven protons as a future source for cancer therapy. Key papers: D. Doria et al, AIP Advances, 2, 011209 (2012)

In this area we met and substantially exceeded our objectives.



Non linear quantum electrodynamics (NLQED)
Ultra-intense lasers are entering this exciting and fundamental domain, where the laser intensity is sufficiently intense to test non-linear interactions between the laser and the quantum vacuum and electrons. During this period, novel theoretical work has identified phenomena such as quantum-radiation reaction for future experimental study. We have also conducted some of the first studies with laser-electron beam collisions demonstrating non-linear Thomson Scattering, the production of intense positron beams. These studies show that the field of non linear QED is indeed opening up to the experimental investigation of some of the most fundamental effects in nature (such as pair-production from vacuum, which will be tackled in the coming years). Key papers: D.Green and C. Harvey, Phys. Rev. Lett, 112,164801 (2014); Gonsokov et al. Phys. Rev. Lett.111,060404 (2012); Gonsokov et al. Phys. Rev. Lett. 113 014801 (2013); G. Sarri et al. Ultrahigh nonlinear brilliance multi-MeV \gamma-ray beams from nonlinear relativistic Thomson scattering Phys. Rev. Lett. (accepted 2014); G. Sarri et al., Phys.Rev. Lett. 110, 205001 (2013)


TARANIS-X laser

A significant achievement for the future direction of the group - facilitated by the resources available through the Platform Grant - has been the development of the TARANIS-X concept culminating in the award of ESPRC Equipment grant funding for its implementation. TARANIS-X is based on cutting edge laser technology and will result in the worlds most powerful few-cycle laser available for research at QUB. This development feeds directly into our research strands of Nanoradiation, ultraintense XUV sources and QED research. It is also a technology driver for future facilities in the UK (CLF) and internationally (e.g. ELI).

Other work
In addition to the three main areas discussed above, we have progressed in related areas. All of the areas mentioned here overlap strongly with each other in terms of common skills, required laser facilities and diagnostic techniques and have benefitted from the synergy provided by the platform grant. In laboratory astrophysics we have several key outcomes (B. Albertazzi et al, Science, 346, 325 (2014) H.Ahmed et al, Phys. Rev. Lett., 110, 205001 (2013) G.Sarri et al, Phys. Rev. Lett. 110, 255002 (2013)

Internationalization
The PG has led to further internationalization of our work with new collaborations with Max-Planck-Institute in Heidelberg, Germany, the Stanford Linear Accelerator Lab, Lawrence Berkeley Lab and University of Michigan (all US). Memoranda of understanding have been signed with some key large laser facilities emerging during the PG such as ELI (EU) and GIST and CoReLs (Korea).



Strategic Expansion of the Group
The ultra-intense laser group has been strategically expanded thanks to the dynamic environment created by the PG. FT academic positions funded by the university have become available for Dr B Dromey (CI on grant with EPSRC Career Advancement Fellowship status), Dr G Sarri (PDRA in group who initially won a Leverhulme Trust Early Researcher Fellowship during the PG period) and Dr S Kar (PDRA in group who also won an EPSRC Career Advancement Fellowship). In addition, two other FT academic appointments were made through university schemes since the grant started - Dr D Jung and Dr B Reville - to support the general activities of the Platform Grant programme (ie PG known as YOTTA)). These appointments, coupled with a strong PDRA cohort funded by the PG and a vibrant stream of PhD students motivated and attracted by the potential of the YOTTA programme augmented the original group numbers to a "critical mass" level. There are currently about 30 group members, including 10 academics in PLIP, actively involved in the YOTTA PG programme.
Exploitation Route To be added
Sectors Education,Energy,Healthcare,Other

 
Description The Platform Grant links into Healthcare related work and collaborations with industry being developed in the group with a particular view to physics based approaches to innovating cancer treatment • Our work on ion acceleration related to radiotherapy allows the direct observation of the primary ultrafast processes underlying radiation therapy. • This work feeds directly into the collaboration between QUB and the internationally leading cancer research company Nanobiotix, France. This collaboration, which contributes £500k to staff and research at QUB is lead by Dr. Currell, who is a key staff component in our reapplication for a follow on platform grant. • This research strand sets the central theme for the PG renewal, Development of Advanced Technology • The design of the TARANIS-X laser, designed to be the highest power few cycle laser worldwide was initiated under the auspices of the Platform Grant. Exploitation of this concept is being driven forward in collaboration with the company Class 5 Lasers. • Exploitation of the opportunities arising from TARANIS-X is a cornerstone capability in the PG renewal. The Platform Grant has been used to grow capability to a leading and competitive level internationally. This has resulted in highly skilled and trained scientists resulting in National Impact and in particular on the economy of Northern Ireland. • The IOP report from 2012 emphasises importance of physics to NI economy e.g. 40,000 jobs depend on it. Our success trains highly skilled STEM workers and strengthens physics in NI with consequent long term benefits • This need is emphasized by the Northern Ireland Skills Barometer in a report from the Department of Education and Learning (DEL), which identified a strong and growing need for STEM skills. STEM skills were identified as most pressing shortage and the lack of these skills as limiting economic growth in NI. Our success allowed a vibrant internationally competitive group, providing an ideal setting for training local scientists and attracting high quality staff inwards to the NI economy. • Direct examples of individuals employed on the Platform Grant are Dr. Tom Dzelzainis and Dr. Kilian McKeever - both employed in the Northern Ireland High-Tech Sector (Camlin Technologies and FabLab respectively) • We provide resources and impetus to the local success story Andor Technology specializing in CCD cameras for the high-end industrial and scientific sector. The collaboration with ANDOR during the Platform Grant focused on testing effects of pulsed electrical interference (EMP) on ANDOR's detectors - approaches for EMP protection were developed and shared with ANDOR. • As a customer of a micro fabrication company Scitech Ltd (Oxfordshire our needs have driven the developments of advanced products and skills. • One of our PhD students associated with Platform Grant - Dr. Arvid Hage now works for a high-tech laser company (Amphos, Germany) National Strategic Importance • The Platform Grant has been instrumental in expanding our international competitiveness and leadership in ultra intense laser technology and associated applications • Intense laser and plasma science is an area of strategic importance to UK. It is a highly technologically innovative area and feeds into the skill requirements of AWE plc. Outreach • The group organized a highly visible contribution to the Northern Ireland Science Festival at the Ulster Museum. Staffing of interactive exhibits was provided by students, PDRAs and members of staff bringing over 10,000 members of the public into contact with cutting edge science. This activity initiated by our group is now a regular outreach activity and has been augmented by other divisions in the Physics Department.
First Year Of Impact 2014
Sector Education,Energy,Healthcare,Other
Impact Types Societal,Economic

 
Description Basic Research Initiative : Laser-matter Interactions in the Relativistic Optics Regime
Amount $1,600,000 (USD)
Funding ID AFOSR-BRI- 
Organisation United States Air Force 
Sector Public
Country United States
Start  
 
Description Career Acceleration Fellowship : Next generation laser-driven neutron sources for ultrafast studies
Amount £617,279 (GBP)
Funding ID EP/J002550/1 
Organisation Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) 
Sector Academic/University
Country United Kingdom
Start  
 
Description Doctoral Training Centre : Application of next generation accelerators
Amount £400,000 (GBP)
Funding ID EP/J500094/1 
Organisation Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) 
Sector Academic/University
Country United Kingdom
Start  
 
Description EPSRC Programme grant
Amount £1,389,644 (GBP)
Funding ID EP/P010059/1 
Organisation Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) 
Sector Academic/University
Country United Kingdom
Start 01/2017 
End 12/2020
 
Description Early Career Fellowship : Testing non-linear QED with ultra-high intensity lasers
Amount £118,830 (GBP)
Funding ID ECF-2011-383 
Organisation The Leverhulme Trust 
Sector Academic/University
Country United Kingdom
Start  
 
Description Experimental Equipment Call- Queen's University Belfast Submission
Amount £617,279 (GBP)
Funding ID EP/J002550/1 
Organisation Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) 
Sector Academic/University
Country United Kingdom
Start 01/2012 
End 12/2016
 
Description HICONO - High-Intensity Coherent Nonlinear Optics
Amount £169,000 (GBP)
Funding ID 641272 
Organisation European Research Council (ERC) 
Sector Public
Country European Union (EU)
Start 10/2015 
End 10/2019
 
Description Hybrid simulations of weakly collisional/collisionless shocks in laser produced plasmas
Amount £98,603 (GBP)
Funding ID EP/N002644/1 
Organisation Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) 
Sector Academic/University
Country United Kingdom
Start 12/2015 
End 02/2017
 
Description Impact of relativistic transparency on high intensity laser matter interactions
Amount £98,923 (GBP)
Funding ID EP/M014746/1 
Organisation Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) 
Sector Academic/University
Country United Kingdom
Start 02/2015 
End 07/2016
 
Description Programme Grant : ASAIL - Advanced laser-ion acceleration strategies towards next generation healthcare
Amount £4,576,908 (GBP)
Funding ID EP/K022415/1 
Organisation Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) 
Sector Academic/University
Country United Kingdom
Start  
 
Description Proof of concept funding scheme
Amount £104,715 (GBP)
Funding ID POC-329 
Organisation Invest Northern Ireland 
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Start 10/2013 
End 02/2015
 
Description Standard Grant : Dynamics of relativistic leptonic jets in low-density plasmas
Amount £98,423 (GBP)
Funding ID EP/L013975/1 
Organisation Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) 
Sector Academic/University
Country United Kingdom
Start  
 
Description Standard Grant : Novel Techniques for control and optimisation of laser driven ion beams
Amount £236,870 (GBP)
Funding ID EP/L002221/1 
Organisation Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) 
Sector Academic/University
Country United Kingdom
Start  
 
Description Standard Grant : Optimising laser driven electron nanobunches from ultrathin foil interactions: Coherent synchrotron emission and relativistic electron mirrors
Amount £699,890 (GBP)
Funding ID EP/L02327X/1 
Organisation Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) 
Sector Academic/University
Country United Kingdom
Start  
 
Description Standard Grant : Structure factors in warm dense matter
Amount £467,214 (GBP)
Funding ID EP/K009591/1 
Organisation Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) 
Sector Academic/University
Country United Kingdom
Start  
 
Description Standard Grant : XUV interaction and warm dense matter at QUB
Amount £628,251 (GBP)
Funding ID EP/I031464/1 
Organisation Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) 
Sector Academic/University
Country United Kingdom
Start  
 
Description Northern Ireland Science Festival 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact The Northern Ireland Science Festival forms our biggest single public engagement activity. Exhibitions were set-up to engage the General Public, Schools and Policymakers. The exhibition was set-up to the Ulster Museum and attended by over 10,000 people. PhD students and staff engaged with the public - an evening event was set-up specifically to engage NI policy makers.
Wider outreach beyond this includes schools talks on a regular basis.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2015,2016
URL http://www.nisciencefestival.com/
 
Description Outreach Talks at Schools 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Schools
Results and Impact Members of the team give regular talks at secondary schools throughtout Northern Ireland on topics of laser science, Fusion Energy and Plasmas.
Typically this would be on the order of 2-3 events per annum with 30-50 students each time.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2011,2012,2013,2014,2015