Here we explore ways of transforming laser radiation into incoherent and coherent electromagnetic radiation using laserdriven plasma waves. We present several examples based on the laser wakefield accelerator (LWFA) and show that the electron beam and radiation from the LWFA has several unique characteristics compared with conventional devices. We show that the energy spread can be much smaller than 1% at 130-150 MeV. This makes LWFAs useful tools for scientists undertaking time resolved probing of matter subject to stimuli. They also make excellent imaging tools. We present experimental evidence that ultra-short XUV pulses, as short as 30 fs, are produced directly from an undulator driven by a LWFA, due to the electron bunches having a duration of a few femtoseconds. By extending the electron energy to 1 GeV, and for 1-2 fs duration pulses of 2 nm radiation peak powers of several MW per pC can be produced. The increased charge at higher electron energies will increase the peak power to GW levels, making the LWFA driven synchrotron an extremely useful source with a spectral range extending into the water window. With the reduction in size afforded by using LWFA driven radiation sources, and with the predicted advances in laser stability and repletion rate, ultra-short pulse radiation sources should become more affordable and widely used, which could change the way science is done.
The increasing demand for high laser powers is placing huge demands on current laser technology. This is now reaching a limit, and to realise the existing new areas of research promised at high intensities, new cost-effective and technically feasible ways of scaling up the laser power will be required. Plasma-based laser amplifiers may represent the required breakthrough to reach powers of tens of petawatt to exawatt, because of the fundamental advantage that amplification and compression can be realised simultaneously in a plasma medium, which is also robust and resistant to damage, unlike conventional amplifying media. Raman amplification is a promising method, where a long pump pulse transfers energy to a lower frequency, short duration counter-propagating seed pulse through resonant excitation of a plasma wave that creates a transient plasma echelon that backscatters the pump into the probe. Here we present the results of an experimental campaign conducted at the Central Laser Facility. Pump pulses with energies up to 100 J have been used to amplify sub-nanojoule seed pulses to near-joule level. An unprecedented gain of eight orders of magnitude, with a gain coefficient of 180 cm−1 has been measured, which exceeds high-power solid-state amplifying media by orders of magnitude. High gain leads to strong competing amplification from noise, which reaches similar levels to the amplified seed. The observation of 640 Jsr−1 directly backscattered from noise, implies potential overall efficiencies greater than 10%.
Advances in laser technology have driven the development of laser-wakefield accelerators, compact devices that are capable of accelerating electrons to GeV energies over centimetre distances by exploiting the strong electric field gradients arising from the interaction of intense laser pulses with an underdense plasma. A side-effect of this acceleration mechanism is the production of high-charge, low-energy electron beams at wide angles. Here we present an experimental and numerical study of the properties of these wide-angle electron beams, and show that they carry off a significant fraction of the energy transferred from the laser to the plasma. These high-charge, wide-angle beams can also cause damage to laser-wakefield accelerators based on capillaries, as well as become source of unwanted bremsstrahlung radiation.
X-ray phase contrast imaging (X-PCi) is a very promising method of dramatically enhancing the contrast of X-ray images of microscopic weakly absorbing objects and soft tissue, which may lead to significant advancement in medical imaging with high-resolution and low-dose. The interest in X-PCi is giving rise to a demand for effective simulation methods. Monte Carlo codes have been proved a valuable tool for studying X-PCi including coherent effects. The laser-plasma wakefield accelerators (LWFA) is a very compact particle accelerator that uses plasma as an accelerating medium. Accelerating gradient in excess of 1 GV/cm can be obtained, which makes them over a thousand times more compact than conventional accelerators. LWFA are also sources of brilliant betatron radiation, which are promising for applications including medical imaging. We present a study that explores the potential of LWFA-based betatron sources for medical X-PCi and investigate its resolution limit using numerical simulations based on the FLUKA Monte Carlo code, and present preliminary experimental results.
The laser-plasma wakefield accelerator is a novel ultra-compact particle accelerator. A very intense laser pulse focused onto plasma can excites plasma density waves. Electrons surfing these waves can be accelerated to very high energies with unprecedented accelerating gradients in excess of 1 GV/cm. While accelerating, electrons undergo transverse betatron oscillations and emit synchrotron-like x-ray radiation into a narrow on-axis cone, which is enhanced when electrons interact with the electromagnetic field of the laser. In this case, the laser can resonantly drive the electron motion, lading to direct laser acceleration. This occurs when the betatron frequency matches the Doppler down-shifted frequency of the laser. As a consequence, the number of photons emitted is strongly enhanced and the critical photon energy is increases to 100’s of keV.
The Advanced Laser-Plasma High-Energy Accelerators towards X-rays (ALPHA-X) programme is developing laserplasma accelerators for the production of ultra-short electron bunches with subsequent generation of coherent, bright, short-wavelength radiation pulses. The new Scottish Centre for the Application of Plasma-based Accelerators (SCAPA) will develop a wide range of applications utilising such light sources. Electron bunches can be propagated through a magnetic undulator with the aim of generating fully coherent free-electron laser (FEL) radiation in the ultra-violet and Xrays spectral ranges. Demonstration experiments producing spontaneous undulator radiation have been conducted at visible and extreme ultra-violet wavelengths but it is an on-going challenge to generate and maintain electron bunches of sufficient quality in order to stimulate FEL behaviour. In the ALPHA-X beam line experiments, a Ti:sapphire femtosecond laser system with peak power 20 TW has been used to generate electron bunches of energy 80-150 MeV in a 2 mm gas jet laser-plasma wakefield accelerator and these bunches have been transported through a 100 period planar undulator. High peak brilliance, narrow band spontaneous radiation pulses in the vacuum ultra-violet wavelength range have been generated. Analysis is provided with respect to the magnetic quadrupole beam transport system and subsequent effect on beam emittance and duration. Requirements for coherent spontaneous emission and FEL operation are presented.
Both the laser-plasma wakefield accelerator (LWFA) and X-ray phase-contrast imaging (XPCi) are promising technologies that are attracting the attention of the scientific community. Conventional X-ray absorption imaging cannot be used as a means of imaging biological material because of low contrast. XPCi overcomes this limitation by exploiting the variation of the refraction index of materials. The contrast obtained is higher than for conventional absorption imaging and requires a lower dose. The LWFA is a new concept of acceleration where electrons are accelerated to very high energy (~150 MeV) in very short distances (mm scale) by surfing plasma waves excited by the passage of an ultra-intense laser pulse (~10<sup>18</sup> Wcm<sup>-2</sup>) through plasma. Electrons in the LWFA can undergo transverse oscillation and emit synchrotron-like (betatron) radiation in a narrow cone around the propagation axis. The properties of the betatron radiation produced by LWFA, such as source size and spectrum, make it an excellent candidate for XPCi. In this work we present the characterization of betatron radiation produced by the LWFA in the ALPHA-X laboratory (University of Strathclyde). We show how phase contrast images can be obtained using the betatron radiation in a free-space propagation configuration and we discuss the potential and limitation of the LWFA driven XPCi.
The Advanced Laser-Plasma High-Energy Accelerators towards X-rays (ALPHA-X) programme is developing laserplasma
accelerators for the production of ultra-short electron bunches with subsequent generation of high brilliance,
short-wavelength radiation pulses. Ti:sapphire laser systems with peak power in the range 20-200 TW are coupled into
mm- and cm-scale plasma channels in order to generate electron beams of energy 50-800 MeV. Ultra-short radiation
pulses generated in these compact sources will be of tremendous benefit for time-resolved studies in a wide range of
applications across many branches of science. Primary mechanisms of radiation production are (i) betatron radiation due
to transverse oscillations of the highly relativistic electrons in the plasma wakefield, (ii) gamma ray bremsstrahlung
radiation produced from the electron beams impacting on metal targets and (iii) undulator radiation arising from
transport of the electron beam through a planar undulator. In the latter, free-electron laser action will be observed if the
electron beam quality is sufficiently high leading to stimulated emission and a significant increase in the photon yield.
All these varied source types are characterised by their high brilliance arising from the inherently short duration (~1-10
fs) of the driving electron bunch.