Oct. 9, 2008 Physicists at the University of Texas have built a tabletop laser that produces, at the present time, the largest peak power of any laser in the world: 1.1 petawatts (PW), or 1,100 terawatts (1.1 x 10^15 watts).
A few (much larger) lasers have reached the petawatt level in the past (e.g. Livermore's NIF laser and Rutherford's Vulcan laser).
The Texas laser, like the others, relies on chirping, a process in which a short laser pulse is stretched out, then amplified by a factor of a trillion, and then recompressed to a very short pulse size. In this case, the Texas laser delivers large energy (186-joule [J]) photons crammed into small time-frame (167 femtoseconds [fs]) bursts to achieve their high power.
According to Texas scientist Erhard Gaul, the next goal is to produce 200-J energies packed into 150-fs pulses. Further on, peak powers of more than 100 PW might be possible.
The immediate use for the Texas pulses is for studying the fusion of deuterium clusters and the production of particle acceleration using the immense electric fields produced when such a laser pulse passes through thin targets.
The scientists are presenting their research at the 92nd Annual Meeting of the Optical Society (OSA), being held from Oct. 19-23 in Rochester, N.Y.
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