Pan.  of Michigan’s ZEUS will be the most powerful laser in the US

Pan. of Michigan’s ZEUS will be the most powerful laser in the US

ANN ARBOR, Mich. (AP) — A newly built University of Michigan facility that will house the most powerful laser in the United States is hosting its first experiment this week as the nation seeks to become competitive again in the realm of high-power laser facilities.

The experiment will be conducted at ZEUS – short for Zettawatt-Equivalent Ultrashort pulse laser System – by researchers from the University of California, Irvine. They traveled to Ann Arbor as part of their study of the extremely strong interactions of light and matter and how these interactions can be harnessed to shrink particle accelerators.

At its peak power, ZEUS will be a 3 petawatt laser.

Three petawatts is “3 to 15 zeros after,” said Louise Willingale, an associate professor of electrical engineering and computer science at Michigan.

And “3 petawatts is 3,000 times more powerful than the US grid,” he said.

Michigan was awarded $18.5 million from the National Science Foundation to establish ZEUS as a federally funded international user facility.

Initially, the facility – housed in a building that houses the UM Gérard Mourou Center for Ultrafast Optical Science – will host research groups conducting experiments that use a fraction of the laser’s full power. The system will gradually be boosted and ZEUS is expected to begin its signature experiments in the fall of 2023.

The US built the world’s first petawatt laser a quarter of a century ago, but has not kept pace with more ambitious systems in Europe and Asia. While ZEUS doesn’t have the same raw power as its overseas contemporaries, its approach will simulate a laser that’s about 1 million times more powerful than its 3 petawatts.

ZEUS will primarily study extrema, 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 consists of plasma. The sun is an example of a creature.

The experiments are expected to contribute to understanding how the universe works at the subatomic level and materials change on fast time scales. Scientists also hope it will lead to the development of smaller and more compact particle accelerators for medical imaging and therapy.

ZEUS “will have a huge range of applications in science, technology, engineering and medicine,” Willingale said.

Proposals for the use of ZEUS will be evaluated by an external panel of scientists and engineers. Because of NSF funding, there will be no cost to users whose experimental proposals are selected to conduct research, beyond providing their own travel expenses to the facility.

Proposals will be selected based on scientific merit and technical feasibility, Willingale said.

Franklin Dollar, an associate professor in Cal-Irvine’s Department of Physics & Astronomy, and four UCI graduate students arrived in Michigan last week to begin preparations for their experiment.

“One of the biggest challenges in our field is access to high-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.

“Instead of making high-energy plasma exclusively from lasers, there is a second beam that can also interact with the plasma,” he said.

ZEUS is an upgrade over the University of Michigan’s 0.5 petawatt laser known as HERCULES.

While the Michigan researchers are excited about the birth of ZEUS, they know how their naming conventions don’t exactly line up with the chronology of Greek mythology.

“HERCLES was the predecessor of ZEUS,” said Willingale. “He is a little behind, because Hercules was the son of Zeus.

“Well, we build the father after the son.”

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