Lotsa lasers an option for the Next Big Physics

What's next after colliders?

Bridging the IT gap between rising business demands and ageing tools

If you thought the world of big physics was drawing to a close with the confirmation that yes, the Higgs boson appears to be a boson and appears to be a Higgs, think again: CERN's boffins, along with thinkers of deep thoughts from École Polytechnique, Southampton University's Optoelectronics Centre and Jena are imagining what the world's next generation of particle accelerators may look like.

The answer might be “a very, very bright laser”, and to look at the feasibility of this, they've joined together with a dozen other laboratories worldwide to form the ICAN – the International Coherent Amplification Network – consortium.

What they hope to establish is whether lasers could produce both the huge energy inputs a post-LHC particle physics would need, at the same time as getting the high pulse repetition rates required.

However, rather than a single laser with enough power to deliver an Earth-shattering kaboom – which in a particle acceleration context would then have to be recharged thousands of times each second – ICAN's idea is to slave together a large number of far smaller lasers.

Scattering the laser sources to the four winds – apologies, massively distributing the laser sources – allows the power to be similarly distributed, which at the megawatt scale is easier than in a single device.

In the context of particle physics, a laser could impart enough energy to accelerate particles to high energy over distances “measured in centimetres rather than kilometres as is the case today using conventional technology,” said consortium leader, École's Gérard Mourou.

Doing without the huge machines and cost of an LHC “is of critical importance for the future of high-energy physics”, he added.

According to the University of Southampton's Dr Bill Brocklesby, recent proof-of-concept work has demonstrated that the disparate lasers can be controlled “within a fraction of a wavelength … thousands of fibres can be controlled to provide a laser output powerful enough to accelerate electrons to energies of several GeV at 10 kHz repetition rate.”

Their work has been published in Nature Photonics (abstract here). ®

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