There is significant international effort focussed on developing ultra-high-power systems for next-generation laser facilities, such as the Extreme Light Infrastructure (ELI). Existing amplification methods are based on chirped-pulse amplification (CPA). However, the low damage threshold of conventional solid-state optics results in very large amplifiers and compressors. To overcome this challenge, we use stimulated Raman backscattering of a long pump laser in plasma to provide amplification for a low intensity seed pulse. Plasma has the advantage that it is already a broken down medium and therefore field intensities are not constrained as they are in conventional laser amplifiers. This offers the potential to reduce the size and cost of these devices significantly, while providing a possible route to reach exawatt powers, which will enable investigation of extremely high field physics.
Despite its advantages, efficient Raman amplification has not yet been demonstrated experimentally. Efficiencies are limited to only a few percent for seed energies of a few mJ, in contrast with theoretical predictions. Several phenomena lead to saturation or inhibit the amplification process – such as detuning, wavebreaking and particle trapping – depending on the amplification regime. Amplification is therefore highly sensitive to the conditions and parameters used. Raman amplification experiments are challenging, and careful planning is required to ensure that controlled and sustained amplification can take place. Numerical simulation is an essential ingredient to this preparation yet, like the experiments themselves, this is not a trivial task. The amplification process takes place over several millimetres, while structures on the short beat wavelength of the lasers need to be adequately resolved. Since particle kinetic effects are also important, a large number of particles are required. Simulation of the entire domain therefore requires significant computing resources, and therefore many investigations are only performed in 1-dimension. Moreover, the long propagation times involved allow numerical artefacts from processes such as grid heating or numerical dispersion to become significant. These can become pathological and artificially seed or disturb the amplification process.
Using state-of-the-art numerical techniques, we investigate the amplification of low- and high-intensity seed pulses in plasma, and compare their amplification growth rates and efficiencies with experimental results obtained by our group. The use of a chirped pump laser pulses is discussed and compared.
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 petawatts to exawatts, 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, which backscatters the pump into the probe. While very efficient, this comes at the cost of noise amplification (from plasma density fluctuations) that needs to be controlled. Here we present the results of an experimental campaign where we have demonstrated chirped pulse Raman amplification (CPRA) at high intensities. We have used a frequency chirped pump pulse to limit the growth of noise amplification, while trying to maintain the amplification of the seed. In non-optimised conditions we show that indeed noise amplification can be controlled but reducing noise scattering also limits the seed amplification factor. Finally, we show that the gross efficiency is a few percent, consistent with previous measurements of CPRA obtained in capillaries with pump pulses of duration of a few hundred picoseconds.
Stimulated electron self-injection in the laser wakefield accelerator (LWFA) using density downramps is well known and regularly used to produce high energy electron bunches. The use of density gradients not only to stimulate injection but also control the properties of the injected electron bunch was recently presented by Tooley et al. [Phys. Rev. Lett. 119, 044801 (2017)], in which the authors put forward a model for controlling the velocity of the back of the bubble and compared to 2D and 3D particle-in-cell (PIC) data. This model is discussed and used to identify suitable LWFA parameters for ultra-short injection and repeated injection of multiple bunches. Quasi-3D PIC data is used to demonstrate injection of multiple bunches well separated in energy.
We present an investigation into counter-streaming electron beams converging towards, and diverging from, a single point in two dimensions, leading to two-stream and current filamentation instabilities, which have radial and azimuthal density modulations, respectively. Using a semi-analytical approach and numerical simulations, we find no evidence for the two-stream instability in this geometry, but show that the system is unstable to the development of current filamentation.
High energy attosecond electron bunches from the laser-plasma wakefield accelerator (LWFA) are potentially useful sources of ultra-short duration X-rays pulses, which can be used for ultrafast imaging of electron motion in biological and physical systems. Electron injection in the LWFA depends on the plasma density and gradient, and the laser intensity. Recent research has shown that injection of attosecond electron bunches is possible using a short plasma density ramp. For controlled injection it is necessary to keep both the laser intensity and background plasma density constant, but set to just below the threshold for injection. This ensures that injection is only triggered by an imposed density perturbation; the peak density should also not exceed the threshold for injection. A density gradient that only persists over a short range can lead to the injection of femtosecond duration bunches, which are then Lorentz contracted to attoseconds on injection. We consider an example of a sin2 shaped modulation where the gradient varies until the downward slope exceeds the threshold for injection and then reduces subsequently to prevent any further injection. The persistence above the threshold determines the injected bunch length, which can be varied. We consider several designs of plasma media including density perturbations formed by shaped Laval nozzles and present an experimental and theoretical study of the modulated media suitable for producing attosecond-duration electron bunches.
The laser wake-field accelerator (LWFA) traditionally produces high brightness, quasi-monoenergetic electron beams with Gaussian-like spatial and angular distributions. In the present work we investigate the generation of ultra-relativistic beams with ring-like structures in the blowout regime of the LWFA using a dual stage accelerator. A density down-ramp triggers injection after the first stage and is used to produce ring-like electron spectra in the 300 - 600 MeV energy range. These well defined, annular beams are observed simultaneously with the on-axis, high energy electron beams, with a divergence of a few milliradians. The rings have quasi-monoenergetic energy spectra with an RMS spread estimated to be less than 5%. Particle-in-cell simulations confirm that off-axis injection provides the electrons with the initial transverse momentum necessary to undertake distinct betatron oscillations within the plasma bubble during their acceleration process.
Optically pumped CO2 lasers can operate with high efficiency, high repetition rate and large bandwidths, suitable for producing ultra-short pulses at terawatts to petawatts, in contrast to conventional discharge-pumped CO2 lasers, which are restricted by the requirements of discharge dynamics in high-pressure gas. We show how an optically pumped CO2 laser can be realised and we consider its application in laser-driven acceleration. There is potential to replace conventional transversely excited atmospheric CO2 lasers with diode-pumped solid-state lasers as a pump laser for a high-pressure CO2 gain medium, making it suitable for amplifying ultra-short pulses. We show that by driving a laser plasma wakefield accelerator with an ultra-short pulse CO2 laser, a very high charge, high average current, high energy accelerator can be constructed. This could have a major impact on the application of these novel accelerators and radiation sources based on them.
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%.
In the coming years, a new generation of high-power laser facilities (such as the Extreme Light Infrastructure) will become operational, for which it is important to understand how the interaction with intense laser pulses affects the bulk properties of relativistic electron bunches. At such high field intensities, we expect both radiation reaction and quantum effects to have a dominant role to play in determining the dynamics. The reduction in relative energy spread (beam cooling) at the expense of mean beam energy predicted by classical theories of radiation reaction has been shown to occur equally in the longitudinal and transverse directions, whereas this symmetry is broken when the theory is extended to approximate certain quantum effects. The reduction in longitudinal cooling suggests that the effects of radiation reaction could be better observed in measurements of the transverse distribution, which for real-world laser pulses motivates the investigation of the angular dependence of the interaction. Using a stochastic single-photon emission model with a (Gaussian beam) focussed pulse, we find strong angular dependence of the stochastic heating.
The ponderomotive force is an important concept in plasma physics and, in particular, plays an important role in many aspects of the theory of laser plasma interactions including current concerns like wakefield acceleration and Raman amplification. The most familiar form of this gives a force on a charged particle that is proportional to the slowly varying gradient of the intensity of a high frequency electromagnetic field and directed down the intensity gradiant. For a field amplitude simply oscillating in time there is a simple derivation of this formula, but in the more general case of a travelling wave the problem is more difficult. Over the years there has been much work on this using Hamiltonian or Lagrangian averaging techniques, but little or no investigation of how well these theories work. Here we look at the very basic problem of a particle entering a region with a monotonically increasing electrostatic field amplitude and being reflected. We show that the equation of motion derived from a widely quoted ponderomotive potential only agrees with the numerically computed orbit within a restricted parameter range and that outside this range it shows features which are inconsistent with any ponderomotive potential quadratic in the field amplitude. Since the ponderomotive force plays a fundamental role in a variety of problems in plasma physics we think that it is important to point out that even in the simplest of configurations standard theories may not be accurate.
The next few years will see next-generation high-power laser facilities (such as the Extreme Light Infrastructure) become operational, for which it is important to understand how interaction with intense laser pulses affects the bulk properties of a relativistic electron beam. At such high field intensities, we expect both radiation reaction and quantum effects to play a significant role in the beam dynamics. The resulting reduction in relative energy spread (beam cooling) at the expense of mean beam energy predicted by classical theories of radiation reaction depends only on the energy of the laser pulse. Quantum effects suppress this cooling, with the dynamics additionally sensitive to the distribution of energy within the pulse. Since chirps occur in both the production of high-intensity pulses (CPA) and the propagation of pulses in media, the effect of using chirps to modify the pulse shape has been investigated using a semi-classical extension to the Landau-Lifshitz theory. Results indicate that even large chirps introduce a significantly smaller change to final state predictions than going from a classical to quantum model for radiation reaction, the nature of which can be intuitively understood.