If you could hold a giant magnifying glass in space and focus all the sunlight shining toward Earth onto one grain of sand, that concentrated ray would approach the intensity of a new laser beam made in a University of Michigan laboratory.
"That's the instantaneous intensity we can produce," said Karl Krushelnick, a physics and engineering professor. "I don't know of another place in the universe that would have this intensity of light. We believe this is a record."
The pulsed laser beam lasts just 30 femtoseconds. A femtosecond is a millionth of a billionth of a second.
Such intense beams could help scientists develop better proton and electron beams for radiation treatment of cancer, among other applications.
The record-setting beam measures 20 billion trillion watts per square centimeter. It contains 300 terawatts of power. That's 300 times the capacity of the entire U.S. electricity grid. The laser beam's power is concentrated to a 1.3-micron speck about 100th the diameter of a human hair. A human hair is about 100 microns wide.
This intensity is about two orders of magnitude higher than any other laser in the world can produce, said Victor Yanovsky, a research scientist in the U-M Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science who built the ultra-high power system over the past six years.
The laser can produce this intense beam once every 10 seconds, whereas other powerful lasers can take an hour to recharge.
"We can get such high power by putting a moderate amount of energy into a very, very short time period," Yanovsky said. "We're storing energy and releasing it in a microscopic fraction of a second."
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