Scientists from the University of Michigan are going to start the most powerful laser in the country. With a maximum of 3 petawatts, it will be able to simulate a laser a million times more powerful.
Scientists are preparing to start a new laser that will be the most powerful in the United States. The University of Michigan has just completed construction of the Zettawatt-Equivalent Ultrashort pulse laser System (Zeus), which is the successor to the Hercules laser with a power of 0.5 petawatts.
Contrary to what its name indicates, the maximum power of Zeus is 3 petawatts (or three million gigawatts). However, it will be used to simulate a power of one zettawatt (one million petawatts) by aiming a high-energy beam of electrons directed in the opposite direction. Researchers are particularly interested in basic research on plasma physics and particle accelerators.
The new Zeus laser is the most powerful in the United States. (In English, turn on automatic translation of subtitles.) © University of Michigan
A first study on a new technology for X-rays
Zeus emits ultra-short pulses, of the order of 15 femtoseconds, or 15 millionths of a nanosecond. The first study will use only one percent of the total laser power, or 30 terawatts. Scientists plan to send infrared laser pulses into gaseous helium to transform it into plasma. From there, they can create extremely short X-ray pulses, which should make it possible to perform X-rays with much lower X-ray doses than current techniques.
Other projects should follow, gradually increasing the power of the laser. Scientists have notably planned to increase to 500 terawatts at the end of the fall, and then to full power by the fall of 2023.