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Details of Grant 

EPSRC Reference: EP/I029206/1
Title: Yotta - exploring routes to the ultimate intensity regime
Principal Investigator: Lewis, Professor C
Other Investigators:
Dromey, Professor B Borghesi, Professor M Zepf, Professor KM
Geissler, Dr M Riley, Professor D
Researcher Co-Investigators:
Project Partners:
Department: Sch of Mathematics and Physics
Organisation: Queen's University of Belfast
Scheme: Platform Grants
Starts: 01 June 2011 Ends: 30 November 2015 Value (£): 1,439,150
EPSRC Research Topic Classifications:
Plasmas - Laser & Fusion
EPSRC Industrial Sector Classifications:
No relevance to Underpinning Sectors
Related Grants:
Panel History:
Panel DatePanel NameOutcome
03 Feb 2011 Platform Grants Full Proposals (Feb 2011) Announced
Summary on Grant Application Form
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.
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Organisation Website: http://www.qub.ac.uk