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Laser clarity

Los Alamos’ TRIDENT laser induces relativistic transparency in plasma, with applications for particle accelerators, X-ray sources, and ion production for cancer treatment
March 25, 2013
Disposing of nuclear waste in a salt bed

In this research simulation of relativistic transparency, Los Alamos’ Trident laser (orange) penetrates a 100-nanometer-thick carbon nanofoil (green). This generates a plasma, which typically reflects laser light like a mirror. Shown here, however, the strong laser drives the plasma electrons to near the speed of light, making the plasma transparent to the laser. Los Alamos plasma physicists have observed the dynamics of this for the first time. CREDIT: Daniel Jung and Hui-Chun Wu/LANL

To observe the dynamics of relativistic transparency for the first time, they directed the Lab’s 200 trillion-watt peak power short-pulse TRIDENT laser at 10- to 100-nanometer thick carbon foils to generate an electron-rich, transparent plasma

More than 50 years ago, scientists predicted that a laser could generate ions by driving the electrons in plasma to near the speed of light. Plasma typically reflects laser light, but when a strong laser accelerates electrons in the charged gas, plasma can become transparent. During this phenomenon called relativistic transparency, the laser’s energy is transferred to electrons in the plasma, which in turn energizes ions.

Until recently, researchers could only test the fundamental physics of relativistic transparency in computer simulations.

In research published last summer, plasma physicists at Los Alamos, along with collaborators in Germany and the United Kingdom, observed the dynamics of relativistic transparency for the first time.

To do so, they directed the Laboratory’s 200 trillionwatt peak power short-pulse TRIDENT laser at 10- to 100-nanometer thick carbon foils to generate an electron-rich, transparent plasma.

The team’s new understanding of the relativistic transparency can be applied to developing laser-driven particles accelerators, X-ray sources, and ions for cancer treatment.

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