A fundamental difference between the interaction of laser pulses of less than a picosecond duration and power in the range of and above a petawatt appears in contrast to pulses of nanosecond duration. This is due to the basic property that the long pulse interaction is based on thermal effects with inefficient delays of chaotic microscopic thermal motion while the short pulses avoid these complications and the interacting plasma reacts as a macroscopic collective known from atomic physics. Optical energy is converted into mechanical motion with high efficiency and nearly no thermal losses. These developments cover a long history of laser developments leading now into a new era of nonlinear physics combined with quantum properties. One of the applications is laser-driven fusion energy.
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