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Strathclyde acquires one of the world’s most powerful lasers

16 May 2017

350TW pulsed laser from Thales will drive seven beam lines to research cancer treatments and particles.

One of the world’s most powerful lasers – which can produce beams with a peak power of 350 terawatts for 25 femtoseconds and produce up to 14 Joules of energy per pulse at 5 Hz – has been acquired by Scotland's University of Strathclyde.

The £3.5 million device, supplied by Thales, can deliver peak powers with the highest repetition rate of any laser currently operational in a university laboratory, and can briefly recreate the physical conditions, such as the pressures and temperatures, found in stars.

The installation, which commenced in early 2017, follows Thales winning the tender in 2015 from the Scottish Centre for the Application of Plasma-based Accelerators (SCAPA), which is based at the university.

SCAPA’s research is focused on the development of next-generation accelerator and radiation source technology. The SCAPA research centre is a major initiative within the Scottish Universities Physics Alliance project.

Once completed, the new laser facility will comprise three radiation shielded areas housing seven beam lines due to be completed at the rate of one every six months or so. Developing medical, industrial and scientific applications of laser-accelerator and radiation source technology is at the heart of SCAPA.

Cancer therapy

The laser has numerous scientific applications including medical imaging, radiotherapy and generation of radioisotopes for imaging and cancer therapy.

Dr Gregor Welsh, a Research Fellow in Strathclyde’s Department of Physics & Laser Manager of SCAPA, commented, “This is a world-leading laser for any university – indeed, we believe it is the highest average powered lab-based laser of its type anywhere in the world.

He said, “The new laser will act as a light source that drives the applications and produces X-ray pulses short enough to take snapshots of molecular or solid state processes.”

Professor Dino Jaroszynski, director of SCAPA, added, “Our acquisition of this type of laser reflects Strathclyde’s status as a world-leading centre of physics. Its important applications underline Strathclyde’s international reputation for significant research with impact. It also forms part of a valuable training facility for our PhD students.”

He added, "We innovate both in the science and in the way we do the science."

The Research Excellence Framework 2014, the comprehensive rating of UK universities’ research, ranked the University of Strathclyde’s Physics research first in the UK, with 96% of output assessed as world-leading or internationally excellent.

Dr Welsh added, “We already have an older, smaller laser system producing 40TW pulses, which is still in use as part of the SCAPA project.”

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