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Hi-Tech Laser From Warsaw
July 29, 2011   
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A group of Polish researchers in Warsaw have begun work to develop an innovative laser that will rely on a unique light amplification method.

The project involves scientists from the Institute of Physical Chemistry of the Polish Academy of Sciences and researchers from the Faculty of Physics at the University of Warsaw.

Thanks to the light amplification method used, single laser pulses will have the power of tens of terawatts with a record amplification performance, the researchers say.

In most lasers generating ultra-short pulses of light, amplification is achieved with classic technology using sapphire crystals. Energy is pumped into the crystal using an external laser, and a part of the energy is subsequently received by the amplified beam, according to the researchers. Crystal lasers, however, have many drawbacks, such as heating up and distorting the beam cross-section. Special parametric amplifiers provide an alternative.

A laser with such an amplifier will be built in the Warsaw-based Laser Center operated by the Institute of Physical Chemistry and the University of Warsaw Faculty of Physics.

“Our goal is simple: we want to build the most efficient and compact light parametric amplifier in the world,” said Yuri Stepanenko, Ph.D. (pictured), from the Institute of Physical Chemistry.

A team of researchers led by Prof. Czesław Radzewicz has been working for several years to develop the Noncollinear Optical Parametric Chirped Pulse Amplifier (NOPCPA) technology. The method is based on an efficient energy transfer directly from the source laser beam to the amplified beam.

Energy in a parametric amplifier is not stored anywhere, so there are no harmful thermal effects, and the amplified pulses have excellent parameters, the researchers say.

Efficiency is key

The theoretical efficiency of the parametric amplifier is around 60 percent, but this level is difficult to obtain, the researchers say; the best devices of this type available until now had an efficiency of 30 percent.

The Institute of Physical Chemistry’s Paweł Wnuk, Ph.D., says, “Our plan is a minimum 40 percent efficiency, but we will try to cross the 50 percent mark.”

The scientists expect that the first pulses with a duration of a few femtoseconds (i.e. a few trillionths of a second) and a capacity of 10 terawatts will be emitted by the laser at the beginning of next year. But this is only the beginning of the road. “We hope that the current version of the parametric amplifier will allow us to produce pulses exceeding 100 TW,” says Radzewicz.

Calculations show that 500 TW laser pulses could be used to accelerate protons to energies enabling their use in medical applications, such as cancer treatments. Few research centers in the world have such heavy-duty lasers today.

“We have every reason to believe that in the future our light amplification method may help build relatively cheap lasers to accelerate protons; these lasers will be so compact that they will basically be portable devices,” says Stepanenko.

The new laser will be used to build two demonstration systems. The first of these—being developed in association with the Military Academy of Technology (WAT) in Warsaw and the Polish Academy of Sciences’ Institute of Physics— will be used to create micron-size X-ray sources. Sources of this type are used for example in X-ray microscopy, particularly for testing materials. The second demonstrator will be a lidar, a device for measuring pollutants in the atmosphere. Work to build it will also involve researchers from the Military Academy of Technology (WAT) in Warsaw.
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