Extreme light rises in Eastern Europe

20 January 2010

A new international player has entered the arena of intense short-pulse coherent light technology, with the latest developments in the Extreme Light Infrastructure (ELI) European project, which was launched in November 2007 in its preparatory phase and involves nearly 40 research and academic institutions from 13 EU member states. At the end of 2009, ELI decided to create a pan-European Extreme Light Facility based at several research sites. The first three sites have been selected and a decision on a fourth site, to deal with “ultrahigh peak power”, will be taken in 2012 after validation of the technology.

The field of “extreme light” is opening up a new direction in fundamental and applied research. It is currently carried out in Europe – mainly in France, Germany, Russia and the UK – as well as in China, Japan, South Korea and the US. With the new initiative, other European countries hosting the three sites for the new facility are set to take a leading role.

The site in Prague, Czech Republic, will focus on providing ultrashort-pulse beams of energetic particles (10 GeV) and radiation (up to a few mega-electron-volts) produced from compact pulsed-laser plasma accelerators with a planned overall laser peak-power reaching 50 PW. In Hungary, a site in Szeged will be dedicated to extremely fast dynamics, taking snap-shots at the attosecond scale (10–18 s) of electron dynamics in atoms, molecules, plasmas and solids based on an optical few-femtosecond laser with an average power of several kilowatts.

The third site in Magurele, near Bucharest, Romania, will produce radiation and beam particles at energies high enough to address nuclear processes. With this facility a renaissance in the field of nuclear physics is expected. The planned laser peak-power will reach 30 PW. Intense radiation created at ELI could help to clarify the processes limiting the lifetime of nuclear power reactors, offer new avenues to control the lifetime of nuclear waste, fabricate new nuclear pharmaceutical products, and lead to laser-driven hadron therapy, and phase-contrast imaging as a medical diagnostic tool.

Completion of the fourth ELI site will afford new fundamental investigations into particle physics, nuclear physics, acceleration physics and ultrahigh-pressure physics, leading on to applications in astrophysics and cosmology. It will offer new research directions in high-energy physics relating to particle acceleration and the study of the vacuum structure and critical acceleration conditions.

ELI’s host countries have been mandated to form a pan-European Research Infrastructure Consortium (ERIC), which will be open to all European countries, and possibly others, willing to contribute to the realization of the project. A unique centralized management will preside over the integrated infrastructure. The host countries are to provide about 15% of the funding, while the EU is contributing the balance under its infrastructure investment programme. A total of €750 million is currently earmarked for the initial three sites.

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