Laser Zeus will be the most powerful in the entire nation
A newly built University of Michigan facility that will have the most powerful laser in the United States was the scene of a first experiment as the nation tries to become competitive again in the field of centers that have a high-power laser. .
A group of researchers from the University of California, Irvine (UCI) campus conducted the experiment at the ZEUS facility, short for Zetawatt Equivalent Ultrashort Pulse Laser System.
They traveled to Ann Arbor as part of their study of the extremely strong interactions between light and matter, and to see how those interactions can be harnessed to shrink particle accelerators.
When it reaches its highest power, ZEUS will be a 3 petawatt laser.
Three petawatts is “3 followed by 15 zeros,” said Louise Willingale, an associate professor of electrical and computer engineering at the University of Michigan.
And “3 petawatts is 3,000 times more powerful than the US power grid,” he added.
The National Science Foundation (NSF) awarded $18.5 million to the University of Michigan for the creation of ZEUS as a federally funded center for international users.
Initially, the facility — set up in a building that houses the University of Michigan’s Gérard Mouroug Center for Ultrafast Optical Sciences — will host research teams conducting experiments that require a fraction of the laser’s full power. The power of the system will be increased gradually, and the ZEUS facility is expected to begin conducting its signature experiments in the fall of 2023.
The United States built the world’s first petawatt laser a quarter century ago, but it hasn’t kept up with the more ambitious systems in Europe and Asia. Although ZEUS does not have the same raw power of its foreign contemporaries, its approach will simulate a laser nearly a million times more powerful than its 3 petawatts.
ZEUS will primarily study extreme plasmas, a state of matter in which electrons have enough energy to escape from atoms, creating a sea of charged particles. Almost all of the visible universe is made of plasma. The Sun is an example of a plasma.
The experiments are expected to contribute to understanding how the universe works at the subatomic level and how materials change on fast time scales.
ZEUS “will have a tremendous range of applications across science, technology, engineering and medicine,” Willingale said.
“One of the main challenges in our field is access to quality, intense laser light,” Dollar said. “ZEUS will not only be the most powerful laser beam on the continent, but perhaps more importantly, it will provide multiple powerful beams.”