Established in 2020 Thursday, May 13, 2021

University expands access to OMEGA laser with Energy Department's LaserNetUS initiative
The OMEGA EP laser at the University of Rochester Laboratory for Laser Energetics—a four-beam, high-energy and high-intensity laser—is one of the most powerful in the world. Image courtesy: University of Rochester LLE photo / Eugene Kowaluk.

ROCHESTER, NY.- The University of Rochester’s Laboratory for Laser Energetics (LLE) is one of 10 recipients in the LaserNetUS that has recently been granted a three-year collective award of $18 million from the US Department of Energy (DOE) Office of Fusion Energy Sciences (FES).

The funds, which will be distributed among the 10 participating institutions, will allow the LLE and the other nine LaserNetUS partner organizations to expand user access to their laser facilities for frontier research and student training. The findings from these experiments could have a broad range of applications in basic research, advanced manufacturing, and medicine.

Of the total $18 million for three years, $17 million will be devoted to funding facility operations, with an additional $1 million to provide user support, such as travel expenses.

The DOE established LaserNetUS, a network of facilities operating ultra-powerful lasers, in 2018. The new network was created to provide vastly improved access to unique lasers for researchers, and to help restore the US’s once-dominant position in high-intensity laser research. LLE, home of the Omega Laser Facility, was included in the network.

“We are honored and excited to have one of our lasers, the four-beam, high-energy, and high-intensity OMEGA EP laser, as part of the LaserNetUS network,” says Michael Campbell, director of Rochester’s LLE. “We congratulate FES for the vision and continued commitment that will enable the US to maintain world leading science and educate future leaders in this important field.”

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Six LaserNetUS user experiments have already been successfully conducted at LLE over the last 12 months. With the new funding, LLE will continue to provide LaserNetUS users with time on the OMEGA EP laser beam over the next three years.

The LaserNetUS network of high-intensity lasers
LaserNetUS includes the most powerful lasers in the US and Canada, some of which have powers approaching or exceeding a petawatt. Petawatt lasers generate light with at least a million billion watts of power, or nearly 100 times the combined output of all the world’s power plants but compressed in the briefest of bursts. These lasers fire off ultrafast pulses of light shorter than a tenth of a trillionth of a second.

All facilities in LaserNetUS operate high-intensity lasers, which have a broad range of applications in basic research, advanced manufacturing, and medicine. The lasers can recreate some of the most extreme conditions in the universe, such as those found in supernova explosions and near black holes. They can generate particle beams for high-energy-density physics research or intense x-ray pulses to probe matter as it evolves on ultrafast time scales.

The lasers are also being used to develop new technology, such as techniques to generate intense neutron bursts to evaluate aging aircraft components or implement advanced laser-based welding. Several LaserNetUS facilities, including LLE, also operate high-energy longer-pulse lasers that can produce exotic and extreme states of matter like those in planetary interiors or many-times-compressed materials; they can also be used to study laser-plasma interaction, which is important to fusion energy programs.

In its first year of user operations, LaserNetUS awarded beamtime for 49 user experiments to researchers from 25 different institutions. More than 200 user scientists, including more than 100 students and post-docs, have participated in experiments so far. All proposals are peer reviewed by an independent external panel of national and international experts.

“LaserNetUS initiative is a shining example of a scientific community coming together to advance the frontiers of research, provide students and scientists with broad access to unique facilities and enabling technologies, and foster collaboration among researchers and networks from around the world,” says James Van Dam, DOE Associate Director of Science for Fusion Energy Sciences. “We are very excited to work with all of these outstanding institutions as partners in this initiative.”

The US has been a pioneer in high intensity laser technology, and the LLE was home to research by Donna Strickland and Gerard Mourou that was recognized by the 2018 Nobel Prize in Physics. The network and future upgrades to LaserNetUS facilities will provide new opportunities for US and international scientists in discovery science and in the development of new technologies.

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