Nav: Home

'Optical rocket' created with intense laser light

September 14, 2018

In a recent experiment at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, plasma electrons in the paths of intense laser light pulses were almost instantly accelerated close to the speed of light.

Physics professor Donald Umstadter, who led the research, said the new application might aptly be called an "optical rocket" because of the tremendous amount of force that light exerted in the experiment. The electrons were subjected to a force almost a trillion-trillion-times greater than that felt by an astronaut launched into space.

"This new and unique application of intense light can improve the performance of compact electron accelerators," he said. "But the novel and more general scientific aspect of our results is that the application of force of light resulted in the direct acceleration of matter."

The optical rocket is the latest example of how the forces exerted by light can be used as tools, Umstadter said.

Normal intensity light exerts a tiny force whenever it reflects, scatters or is absorbed. One proposed application of this force is a "light sail" that could be used to propel spacecraft. Yet because the light force is exceedingly small in this case, it would need to be exerted continuously for years for the spacecraft to reach high speed.

Another type of force arises when light has an intensity gradient. One application of this light force is an "optical tweezer" that is used to manipulate microscopic objects. Here again, the force is exceedingly small.

In the Nebraska experiment, the laser pulses were focused in plasma. When electrons in the plasma were expelled from the paths of the light pulses by their gradient forces, plasma waves were driven in the wakes of the pulses, and electrons were allowed to catch the wakefield waves, which further accelerated the electrons to ultra-relativistic energy. The new application of intense light provides a means to control the initial phase of wakefield acceleration and improve the performance of a new generation of compact electron accelerators, which are expected to pave the way for a range of applications that were previously impractical because of the enormous size of conventional accelerators.
The experimental research was conducted by students and scientists at Nebraska, with senior research associate Grigoroy Golovin serving as lead author on the paper reporting the new result. Funding was provided by the National Science Foundation.

The experiment was based upon numerical modeling by scientists from Shanghai Jiao Tong University in China. Umstadter theoretically predicted the underlying mechanism two decades ago. The results were reported in September in the journal Physical Review Letters.

University of Nebraska-Lincoln

Related Plasma Articles:

Table top plasma gets wind of solar turbulence
Scientists from India and Portugal recreate solar turbulence on a table top using a high intensity ultrashort laser pulse to excite a hot, dense plasma and followed the evolution of the giant magnetic field generated by the plasma dynamics.
Getting the biggest bang out of plasma jets
Capillary discharge plasma jets are created by a large current that passes through a low-density gas in what is called a capillary chamber.
Neptune: Neutralizer-free plasma propulsion
Plasma propulsion concepts are gridded-ion thrusters that accelerate and emit more positively charged particles than negatively charged ones.
UCLA researchers discover a new cause of high plasma triglycerides
People with hypertriglyceridemia often are told to change their diet and lose weight.
Where does laser energy go after being fired into plasma?
An outstanding conundrum on what happens to the laser energy after beams are fired into plasma has been solved in newly-published research at the University of Strathclyde.
New feedback system could allow greater control over fusion plasma
A physicist has created a new system that will let scientists control the energy and rotation of plasma in real time in a doughnut-shaped machine known as a tokamak.
PPPL scientist uncovers physics behind plasma-etching process
PPPL physicist Igor Kaganovich and collaborators have uncovered some of the physics that make possible the etching of silicon computer chips, which power cell phones, computers, and a huge range of electronic devices.
Calculating 1 billion plasma particles in a supercomputer
At the National Institutes of Natural Sciences National Institute for Fusion Science (NIFS) a research group using the NIFS 'Plasma Simulator' supercomputer succeeded for the first time in the world in calculating the movements of one billion plasma particles and the electrical field constructed by those particles.
Anti-tumor effect of novel plasma medicine caused by lactate
Nagoya University researchers developed a new physical plasma-activated salt solution for use as chemotherapy.
Clarifying the plasma oscillation by high-energy particles
The National Institute for Fusion Science has developed a new code that can simulate the movement of plasma and, simultaneously, the movement of particles circulating at high speeds.

Related Plasma Reading:

Best Science Podcasts 2019

We have hand picked the best science podcasts for 2019. Sit back and enjoy new science podcasts updated daily from your favorite science news services and scientists.
Now Playing: TED Radio Hour

Bias And Perception
How does bias distort our thinking, our listening, our beliefs... and even our search results? How can we fight it? This hour, TED speakers explore ideas about the unconscious biases that shape us. Guests include writer and broadcaster Yassmin Abdel-Magied, climatologist J. Marshall Shepherd, journalist Andreas Ekström, and experimental psychologist Tony Salvador.
Now Playing: Science for the People

#513 Dinosaur Tails
This week: dinosaurs! We're discussing dinosaur tails, bipedalism, paleontology public outreach, dinosaur MOOCs, and other neat dinosaur related things with Dr. Scott Persons from the University of Alberta, who is also the author of the book "Dinosaurs of the Alberta Badlands".