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Laser upgrade at UK STFC to progress energy, medicine, imaging

10 May 2023

High energy laser from Leonardo installed at Central Laser Facility in Oxfordshire.

Military and aerospace tech giant Leonardo Electronics US has installed a new high-energy laser system at the Science and Technology Facilities Council’s Central Laser Facility (CLF) in Oxfordshire – one of the UK’s national scientific research laboratories.

The installation is intended for so-called “extreme photonics” research that will allow scientists and engineers to accelerate the development of research projects with potentially world-changing implications. Future applications of the technology developed under this research could revolutionize medical treatment, enable new forms of green energy, and advance imaging capabilities, stated Leonardo.

The newly installed technology – a high-powered laser diode system – will be used in a high-energy laser amplifier system at the Extreme Photonics and Applications Centre (EPAC), part of the CLF. It will be used to support world-class UK scientific research. The development of this system was performed by Leonardo Electronics US Inc., a subsidiary of Leonardo.

Critical components

Leonardo Electronics US provides high-peak-power (up to 1 MW) diode lasers, which are critical components in the field of laser science and applications. The system installed at EPAC occupies just a third of the volume that was made available by the team at the CLF, says Leonardo.

The performance of Leonardo’s system opens the door to a range of practical applications, such as advanced medical imaging and cancer therapy. Lasers can be used to create compact sources of useful beams such as so-calld “very brilliant” X-rays, which can penetrate media deeper than standard X-rays.

These could drastically improve imaging capabilities in both industrial and medical applications. In cancer therapy, such novel radiobiology sources will provide new therapeutic treatments that are more mobile than traditional facilities.

The technology may also play a crucial role in making it commercially viable to produce green energy from fusion reactions (inertial confinement fusion, or ICF). This will build on recent successes demonstrated at the National Ignition Facility (NIF) by Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL) and in which CLF contributed to the research.

Energizing high-power lasers with diode lasers is a way of generating laser energy that creates less waste heat. This allows a more rapid succession of laser pulses. One benefit of this is that it increases the number of particles per time of highly desirable secondary beams, maximizing the usability of such beams.

Based at the Science and Technology Facilities Council’s Rutherford Appleton Laboratory in Oxfordshire, UK and installed in February, Leonardo’s Homogenized Pump System consists of two optical modules, each with a peak power of 29 kW. The modules can operate from 1 Hz to 10 Hz with up to 1.2 ms pulses, creating up to 35 J in each pulse.

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