Science

"Death Star" laser sets new world record in Japan

The LFEX laser at Osaka University
The LFEX laser at Osaka University
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The LFEX laser at Osaka University
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The LFEX laser at Osaka University
The record-breaking laser is over 100 meters long
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The record-breaking laser is over 100 meters long

Laser engineers in Japan claim to have set a new record for firing the world's most powerful laser, with a peak power equal to a thousand times total world energy consumption. It conjures images of a real-life "Death Star" laser, but could actually help unlock the mysteries of the universe.

"We have achieved 2 petawatt peak power at 2 kJ, 1 ps (picosecond)," Junji Kawanaka of the Institute of Laser Engineering at Osaka University tells Gizmag.

A petawatt is equal to a quadrillion watts – total energy consumption worldwide in 2012 was estimated by the International Energy Agency (IEA) to be 155.5 petawatt hours (PWh) – and a picosecond equals just a trillionth of a second. This puts the so-called "LFEX" (Laser for Fast Ignition Experiments) laser in and beyond the same class as other ultra-fast high-powered lasers like those at the Berkeley Lab Laser Accelerator (BELLA) or the Texas Pettawatt Laser.

According to a draft of a paper on LFEX that Kawanaka and his team presented at the Advanced Lasers and Photon Sources conference in Japan in April, the laser system consists of a front end made up of a femtosecond oscillator, double pulse stretchers with diffraction grating pairs and three stages of optical parametric amplification (OPCPA), followed by a main amplifier, a pulse compressor, and focusing optics.

Put a little more simply, the 100-meter (328-ft)-long system involves applying energy to special glass and repeatedly amplifying the power of the resulting beam inside a controlled system, which also includes the means of observation.

The record-breaking laser is over 100 meters long
The record-breaking laser is over 100 meters long

Kawanaka tells us that his team plans to upgrade to 10 petawatts in the future, and are working to improve the mirrors to be able to achieve this.

"To avoid optical damage of mirror(s) induced by such a very high laser pulse, developments of larger sized mirrors and/or high-damage threshold mirrors are required," he says.

Ten petawatt lasers are also planned by other institutes in Europe and China, among other places. Such super-powerful lasers could lead to breakthroughs in areas such as fusion research, materials design, nanotechnology and particle physics.

Such technology might also help us understand once and for all if we're living in The Matrix or not.

Source: Osaka University via Asahi Shimbun

2 comments
sk8dad
Impressive laser hands down, but the math in this article require a bit of scrutiny. Energy consumption is a measurement of total energy in units of watts x hours where 1 watt-hour equals 3.6 kJ. The watt, by itself, is a unit of power (energy over time), or in other words, how quickly energy is transferred -- not how much total energy. The laser in this article was able to transfer 2 petawatts for only 1 picosecond resulting in a total energy of 2kJ (or 0.56 watt-hours). This is the same amount of energy consumed by a 5 watt LED flashlight running for 6 minute 43 seconds--just meh at best from a total energy output perspective. Obviously one cannot fuse any atoms with an LED flashlight no matter how it was on. The key difference between the lowly LED flashlight and the bad-ass laser is the latter can deliver all 2kJ of energy within a trillionth of a second. Now that IS impressive. Since I'm already typing, the quoted world energy consumption of "18 trillion watts" might have actually meant 18 trillion watt-hours (or 18 x 10^12 watt-hours or 18 terawatt-hours)--even then it's way off by several orders of magnitude. According to IEA, world energy consumption in 2012 is 8979 Mtoe, and only 18.1% of that is from electricity which results in 1625 Mtoe. Converting Mtoe to watt-hours you get 18.9x10^15 or 18.9 petawatt-hours of energy. Hypothetically speaking, the giant laser were to deliver 18.9 petawatt-hours of energy, it would have to burn for about 9 hours 27 minutes. That would be very impressive indeed not only for the energy needed to power the laser, but also to power the biblical capacity of the cooling system.
JAT
If this ever burns through a mirror, god knows how much damage it will do before it loses enough energy to become harmless. As the sign said in the laser lab "Do not look into the laser with your remaining eye."