The Laser Power Record Has Been Broken

Lasers do all sorts of interesting things and — as with so many things — more is better. Korean scientists announced recently they’ve created the most powerful laser beam. 1023 watts per square centimeter, to be exact. It turns out that 1022 Watts/cm2 may not be commonplace, but has been done many times already at several facilities, including the CoReLS petawatt (PW) laser used by the researchers.

Just as improving a radio transmitter often involves antenna work instead of actual power increases, this laser setup uses an improved focus mechanism to get more energy in a 1.1 micron spot. As you might expect, doing this requires some pretty sophisticated optics.

Some of those optics are over our heads, but it appears that some deformable mirrors and a closed-loop control system make the difference. There were also some super flat partial mirrors and other exotic optical equipment. We will guess this isn’t a setup most of us could duplicate, but if you could, the paper will probably make more sense.

What do you do with that much laser power? Beats us. But the team says they plan to “…explore strong field QED phenomena, such as the nonlinear Compton scattering and the nonlinear Breit–Wheeler processes, and proton/ion acceleration dominated by the RPA mechanism.” So, in other words, we still don’t know.

Most homebrew lasers we see have considerably less power. On the other hand, even low-power lasers can still be a lot of fun.



46 thoughts on “The Laser Power Record Has Been Broken

  1. “What do you do with that much laser power? “…..The lead scientist responded….” We’re still looking into it” .. (as he picked up a cup of steaming ramen noodles from under the aperture).. 😄

    1. “Were still looking into it.” (As a micron hole punches straight through his corona, brain, skull, safety helmet, back wall of the room, trees across the courtyard etc.).
      “Maybe we should stop looking into it. At least I’ve still got one good eye.”

          1. The frosted glass is the atmosphere. Distorted light is “undistorted” by the mirror (A tube of gas or a chunk of crystal) in such away that after the wave-fronts pass through the glass they have reversed the effect an the image is clear. This was the concept in Ronald Reagan’s SDI for anti-ballistic missile defense with lasers that can not miss the target. IIRC the mirror/lasers are in orbit.

    1. “You know, I have one simple request. And that is to have sharks with frickin’ laser beams attached to their heads! Now evidently my cycloptic colleague informs me that that cannot be done. Ah, would you remind me what I pay you people for, honestly? Throw me a bone here! What do we have? ”

      Sea Bass…..Sea Bass? Are they ill-tempered ? Riiiiggghttttttt.

  2. Perhaps all sorts of interesting things are possible. Interferommetry at the quark scale? Very small particle accelerators? Encouraging interesting and novel nuclear chemistry? Production of strange-quark matter, which would have interesting nuclear catalytic properties?

    Not to mention, perhaps efficient anti-matter (positron) manufacturing which could then open up a whole new exciting class of compact WMD’s. Perhaps a jet pack you could strap on and fly all the way into space with a compact positron fuel tank. Provided the physics allows the radiation to be channeled away from your delicate, fragile flesh.

    Oh, the fun you could have! Perhaps, it may even be possible to stage some sort of quark-implosion and create a micro-transient singularity, which could then be used to stage an even bigger bang!

    Ah, the possiblities!

    1. “Some of those optics are over our heads, but it appears that some deformable mirrors and a closed-loop control system make the difference. ”

      From a glance at the abstract, the plasma the beam propagates in, or nonlinear compton scattering plays a role too.

      As a relevant example, I’ve used a VNA to quality test cellular transmission lines. The coax/antenna system is narrow-band, so using a narrow-pulse, wideband TDR won’t work. But you can chirp (sweep) a carrier in the bandwidth of the system, then do an inverse-Fourier transform of the return to yield a time-domain TDR plot, showing impedance discontinuity and impairment.

      Similarly, the plasma electrons are dispersive; from :

      “Laser pulses traveling through a plasma can feature group velocities significantly differing from thespeed of light in vacuum.This modifies the well-known Volkov states of an electron inside a stronglaser-field from the vacuum case and consequently all quantum electrodynamical effects triggered bythe electron.”

      Such things are known in electromagnetics as shock-lines, the nonlinear elements are nonlinear inductors forming a dispersive (group velocity) transmission line.

      1. The second to last paragraph reminds me of a certain line in one of my favorite shows: “…his Neutronium hat that harnesses the power of Sunspots, to create cognitive radiation…” Because after all, genetic engineering is just scientific mumbo jumbo…

        So, while it may be legit, it sure sounds like a line straight out of a science fiction comic or something! (No offense meant!)

        1. Sorry for the word salad. I was vague but I know what I meant anyways : )

          A web search on “radar chirp compressor” will yield much info on using a dispersive and/or nonlinear transmission line to make a short increasing/decreasing frequency (chirped) multi-cycle signal of relatively low amplitude into a single higher-amplitude pulse. Similarly, I’m thinking the dispersive plasma does the same with the laser pulse.

          The antenna sweep came to mind as an example of changing a frequency domain signal into a time domain, of higher amplitude.

          Dispersive means different frequencies propagate at different speeds. I’ve seen several pretty jscripts out there for illustrating dispersion, group velocity, et.

          Illustrations are so very useful. Whether equations or geek-speak (and my sci-fi application speculation), ‘Those that say, don’t know; those that know, don’t say’?

          1. Chirped lasers are similar to chirped radar, but (unsurprisingly) at a different frequency so using different optics. The inventors of chirped pulse amplification for lasers won the nobel for physics in 2018. They allow switching frequency for time in order to vastly amplify the pulse and then recompress it, and allow for easily portable terawatt (peak pulsed power) lasers.

      2. Plasma at the correct pressure behaves acoustically. In a containment vessel tuned to the correct shape, a standing wave effect could be established and result in amplification. I suppose this is a little of what is going on (based on my reading thus far into hydrodynamic plasma and my past work in acoustics). I think this is maybe an easier way to visualize the concept regarding group velocities. If I’m understanding the book I’ve been reading correctly, those velocities may be an-axial measurements across such a standing wave.

    1. If only it lasted more than a pico-second. Joules HaD! We need to know joules!

      Power in watts has been used for the press conferences for 50 years now. Watts being joules per second. If you want to shoot something down it better run for up to 30 seconds depending. OTOH, if you want to fill a tiny space with a LOT of energy, this will do.

  3. I would try to use it to propel a solar sail or some other useful propulsion method for space. Or I might use it to zap any asteroids headed for earth and see if I could cut it up into pieces. Or maybe attempt to tear apart space and time and see what happens once they’re detached from each other, if that’s possible. That could require more power if possible, so I might use it as a starting point for a more powerful laser. If I couldn’t get any of that to work. I might try to figure out a way to use it to determine whether we’re living in a simulation or not. Cause really, why didn’t any of that other stuff work? … Simulation. :)

    1. There are serious suggestions for using extremely high power pulsed lasers for powering crawlers as they spend a week climbing up the ribbon for a spacehook.
      Though the main commercial area I know about that uses ultra high power lasers is in surface treatment for forming extremely wear-resistant or ultrahydrophobic/self-cleaning surfaces.

  4. Hi there,

    just a small comment: it would be more accurate to title your article with “the laser intensity record has been broken”, which is not exactly the same thing. There are other more powerful lasers, but they are less intense.

    Loved the article though, learnt something today :)

  5. In the image the system looks so nice and simple. To give some idea of scale: I’ve seen such a system about 25 years ago (ok. only 100fs-pulses instead of 20fs and I don’t remember the exact specs but the basic set-up was similar). The laser filled a complete floor. And the floor below was filled with capacitors to store the electric energy for the booster pump lasers. The repetition rate is typically limited by the time needed to charge these capacitors. The beam path from start to end is very likely 100m or more. Just consider the beam diameters shown in the image. And the gray boxes are vacuum chambers. The beam entering the vacuum chamber is 28cm in diameter!
    Because the electric field of the pulses is so high that it will break down in air. BTW it was nice to generate such breakdowns in air just by focusing some uJ pulses from a femtosecond laser running at kHz repetition rate (when I worked in a laser lab). “Lightning” just somewhere above the table with flashes every microsecond. :-)
    “Most powerful laser” – it depends. One pulse every ten seconds makes a rather low average power. Definitely not suitable to propel solar sails in space.

  6. Are you sure?

    The most powerful laser on the planet is located deep inside the Realm of Dracula near Bucharest at Extreme Light Infrastructure – Nuclear Physics (ELI-NP) Research Facility – they reached 10% of the power of the Sun during their last tests and they were operating only one half of the whole system.

    The place looks like Black Mesa Research Facility in Half-Life game.

    But they were kicked out of any European Union research programs because of big corruption (yes, some “head-humpers” infiltrated and took control) which chase away many scientists. The press revealed some dark secrets about politics against science. The EU decided to include only Hungary and Czech Republic in their “Extreme Light Research Program” and cut their funds so this may disqualify them from your article.

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