Scientists at the University of Michigan are about to turn on the most powerful laser in the country. With a maximum of 3 petawatts, it will be able to simulate a laser that is 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 0.5 petawatt Hercules laser.
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.
A first study on a new X-ray technology
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 are expected to follow, gradually increasing the power of the laser. In particular, scientists have planned to increase to 500 terawatts in late fall, then to full power by fall 2023. US military is also working on layered laser systems for development of effective laser weapons.