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.
-end-
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:

Introduction to Plasma Physics and Controlled Fusion
by Francis Chen (Author)

Principles of Plasma Physics for Engineers and Scientists
by Umran S. Inan (Author), Marek GoĊ‚kowski (Author)

Principles of Plasma Discharges and Materials Processing , 2nd Edition
by Michael A. Lieberman (Author), Alan J. Lichtenberg (Author)

Fundamentals of Plasma Physics
by Paul M. Bellan (Author)

Plasma Physics (Dover Books on Physics)
by James E. Drummond (Author)

Characterizing Space Plasmas: A Data Driven Approach (Astronomy and Astrophysics Library)
by George K. Parks (Author)

Waves in Plasmas
by Thomas H. Stix (Author)

Introduction to Plasma Physics (Plasma Physics Series)
by R.J Goldston (Author), P.H Rutherford (Author)

Plasma Physics via Computer Simulation (Series in Plasma Physics)
by C.K. Birdsall (Author), A.B Langdon (Author)

Plasmas: The First State of Matter
by Dr Vinod Krishan (Author)

Best Science Podcasts 2018

We have hand picked the best science podcasts for 2018. Sit back and enjoy new science podcasts updated daily from your favorite science news services and scientists.
Now Playing: TED Radio Hour

Dying Well
Is there a way to talk about death candidly, without fear ... and even with humor? How can we best prepare for it with those we love? This hour, TED speakers explore the beauty of life ... and death. Guests include lawyer Jason Rosenthal, humorist Emily Levine, banker and travel blogger Michelle Knox, mortician Caitlin Doughty, and entrepreneur Lux Narayan.
Now Playing: Science for the People

#492 Flint Water Crisis
This week we dig into the Flint water crisis: what happened, how it got so bad, what turned the tide, what's still left to do, and the mix of science, politics, and activism that are still needed to finish pulling Flint out of the crisis. We spend the hour with Dr Mona Hanna-Attisha, a physician, scientist, activist, the founder and director of the Pediatric Public Health Initiative, and author of the book "What the Eyes Don't See: A Story of Crisis, Resistance, and Hope in an American City".