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Scientists at Los Alamos National Laboratory have observed for the first time how a laser penetrates dense, electron-rich plasma to generate ions. The process has applications for developing next generation particle accelerators and new cancer treatments.
The results, published online Aug. 19 in Nature Physics, also confirm predictions made more than 60 years ago about the fundamental physics of laser-plasma interaction. Plasmas dense with electrons normally reflect laser light like a mirror. But a strong laser can drive those electrons to near the speed of light, making the plasma transparent and accelerating the plasma ions.
“That idea has been met with some skepticism in the field,” said Rahul Shah of LANL’s plasma physics group. “We think that we’ve settled that controversy.”
The team, which also included researchers from the Max Planck Institute for Quantum Optics in Garching, Germany and Queens University in Belfast, UK used the 200 trillion-watt short-pulse TRIDENT laser at Los Alamos National Laboratory to observe the transparency phenomenon at 50 femtosecond resolution. Until now, those dynamics have been witnessed only in computer simulations.
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