Most powerful laser in the US is about to be fired for the first time

The first experiments involving the most powerful laser in the United States, the Zetawatt-Equivalent Ultrashort pulse laser System (ZEUS), have begun.

Most powerful laser in the US is about to be fired for the first time
Published Sep 21, 2022 4:01 AM CDT
1 minute & 13 seconds read time

The University of Michigan has officially begun commissioning experiments to make the Zetawatt-Equivalent Ultrashort pulse laser System (ZEUS) fully operational.

Researchers are preparing to use the laser to fire light pulses at an experimental target designed to receive more frequent pulses but at lower peak power. This first experiment will see the laser firing with a power output of 30 terawatts (30 trillion watts), about 1% of ZEUS' designed maximum power, and roughly 3% of the power of the most powerful lasers currently in the United States. Its maximum power output is expected to reach three petawatts (3,000 terawatts).

"ZEUS will be the highest peak power laser in the U.S. and among the most powerful laser systems in the world. We're looking forward to growing the research community and bringing in people with new ideas for experiments and applications," said Karl Krushelnick, director of the Center for Ultrafast Optical Science, which houses ZEUS, and the Henry J. Gomberg Collegiate Professor of Engineering.

ZEUS's first commissioning experiment involves using infrared laser pulses sent toward a helium gas target, turning it into a plasma that then produces its own very compact X-ray pulses. Michigan alum Franklin Dollar and his team are the first to test out the laser. They are investigating new kinds of X-ray sources like this for potential use in medical applications as an alternative to X-ray machines that deliver high doses of radiation.

"Our team at ZEUS is very excited that our hard work paid off, and despite all the post-pandemic equipment delivery delays, we are on schedule to our original timeline. This experiment is the beginning to gradually ramp up the power until full commissioning in the fall of 2023," said project manager Franko Bayer.

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