High Power Lasers as a Probe of Fundamental Physics

Lead Research Organisation: University of Strathclyde
Department Name: Physics


The rapid development of laser technology is providing ever increasing intensities. The Scottish Centre for the Application of Plasma-based Accelerators (SCAPA) at Strathclyde hosts the world's highest average-power, sub-petawatt laser, and in the coming years the Extreme Light Infrastructure (ELI) will yield intensities never previously available.

This provides a unique opportunity to probe unexplored regimes of physics, which are bound to yield important industrial and medical applications, while furthering our understanding of nature at its most fundamental level. These two strands are closely intertwined: the benefits offered by these facilities require insight into the underlying physics to fully exploit the extreme conditions. In addition, understanding new basic physics should yield insights into astrophysical phenomena, and therefore our origins and our destiny.

The proposed project aims to explore fundamentally new interactions between matter and radiation at extreme intensities. A major use of high-power lasers is the production of X-rays. However, mutual interaction of X-rays with the ultra-dense electron beams generating them has only been studied superficially. This interaction will be investigated to yield insight into controlling their properties. Intense laser fields can also create intense electron beams from pure energy. In principle their heavier counterparts, muons, could also be produced, but this process is assumed to be suppressed by their greater mass. However, electrons and muons in ultra-intense fields have comparable effective masses; another goal of the project is to explore whether this "laser-dressing" leads to comparable production rates. A third path of the project will investigate novel uses of lasers to explore physics beyond the standard model. Unlike particle-collider experiments, lasers are well-suited to studying hypothetical low-mass candidates for dark matter.

Although the work will be largely theoretical, close ties will be maintained with experimental efforts at SCAPA and ELI, ensuring it is both informed by and feeds into experimental campaigns.

The project builds on the Strathclyde-led EPSRC "Lab. in a Bubble" project, which investigates the interaction of high-power lasers with plasma. As well as in-house expertise on laser-plasma science and strong-field electrodynamics, it will benefit from Strathclyde's extensive network of collaborators, including St Andrews, Lancaster, Plymouth and Chalmers Universities.


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Studentship Projects

Project Reference Relationship Related To Start End Student Name
EP/R513349/1 01/10/2018 30/09/2023
2159378 Studentship EP/R513349/1 01/10/2018 31/03/2022 Ruairidh McArthur