More than 25 years ago it took a nuclear explosion under the Nevada desert to power the world's first X-ray laser. Now, Queen's University Belfast is set to unveil recent progress towards producing the first ever functioning X-ray laser in Ireland.
The research report will be presented during an international conference on X-ray Lasers at Queen's this week. It has attracted leading scientists from the world's major high-power laser laboratories who will be able to view the new sophisticated laser system at the University.
The new X-ray laser will be powered by another optical laser in Queen's, which is one of the most powerful optical lasers available in any University laboratory worldwide.
Four hundred times more powerful than the entire UK National Grid for a very short time, it is known as TARANIS, (Terawatt Apparatus for Relativistic and Nonlinear Interdisciplinary Science). Named after the after the European Celtic god of thunder and lightning, it relies on a very powerful infra-red laser system which has been recently installed within the Centre for Plasma Physics at Queen's.
Both laser systems will enable Queen's researchers to attract and build a level of expertise in the general area of plasma physics, previously beyond the reach of an in-house university scale research programme in the UK.
Explaining the importance of the two laser systems, Professor Ciaran Lewis from Queen's Centre for Plasma Physics said: 'The need for an increased effort in plasma physics research and for more trained plasma physicists, is driven by the expanding use of plasmas in a wide range of applications in industry, including the effort to determine if laser-produced nuclear fusion can provide for the world's post-oil power needs.'
'Plasmas are the 'fourth state of matter,' along with gases, liquids and solids. In fact 99 per cent of the observable Universe, including the stars we see in the sky, is in the plasma state. X-ray lasers can be used to probe and diagnose very dense plasma conditions of the type, for example, anticipated in the core of fuel pellets compressed by powerful optical lasers. It is tremendously exciting that Queen's laser systems are now capable of carrying out world-leading experiments involving laser-plasma interactions in extreme conditions.
'Highlighting these two new systems to our international research colleagues will ensure Queen's Centre for Plasma Physics and its researchers remain to the fore of global breakthroughs in the area of high energy density physics. We are anticipating many new international collaborations.'
Over 30 invited speakers from countries including China, USA, Japan, Korea, Russia, France and Germany will cover recent experimental and theoretical developments in the field at the conference.