Laser-Plasma Interactions at the Intensity Frontier: the Transition to the QED-Plasma Regime

Project: Research

Project Details


Current high-power lasers focus light to intensities up to 10^23 times higher than the intensity of sunlight at the surface of the Earth. At these extreme intensities the electrons are quickly stripped from the atoms in any matter in the laser focus, generating a plasma. However, as intensities increase from the peak reached today (2x10^22W/cm^2) to those expected to be reached on next-generation facilities such as the Extreme Light Infrastructure (10^23W/cm^2), due to become operational by 2017, the behaviour of this plasma dramatically alters. At intensities 5x10^22W/cm^-2 the electromagnetic fields in the laser focus are predicted to accelerate the electrons in the plasma so violently that they prolifically radiate gamma-ray photons. These photons can carry away so much energy that the electron's motion is affected by the resulting energy loss and the radiation reaction force (the force the particle exerts on itself as it radiates) becomes significant in determining the plasma's macroscopic dynamics. The laser's electromagnetic fields are so strong that quantum electrodynamics effects also become important. In this case the radiation reaction force no longer behaves deterministically, i.e. instead of knowing the electron's trajectory exactly as in the classical picture, we now can only know the probability that the electron has a given trajectory. In addition, the gamma-ray photons can be converted into electron-positron pairs, these pairs can emit further photons which emit more pairs and an avalanche of antimatter production can ensue with strong consequences for the behaviour of the plasma as a whole. The interplay of radiation reaction, QED effects and ultra-relativistic plasma processes will define the physics of laser-matter interactions in this new 'QED-plasma' regime, but is currently poorly understood. We will elucidate the basic theory of laser propagation and absorption in QED-plasmas. This will provide the foundational theory describing laser matter interactions moving beyond today's intensity frontier and into the foreseeable future. This theory will be underpinned by experiments measuring the rates of the important QED processes for the first time. The new theory will then be used to design the first experiments to generate a QED plasma in the laboratory. This project will culminate in the first generation of a QED-plasma, usually only seen in extreme astrophysical environments such as pulsar magnetospheres, in the laboratory.
Effective start/end date11/06/1510/06/19


  • EPSRC (Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council): £282,887.00

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  • Research Output

    High order mode structure of intense light fields generated via a laser-driven relativistic plasma aperture

    Duff, M. J., Wilson, R., King, M., Gonzalez-Izquierdo, B., Higginson, A., Williamson, S. D. R., Davidson, Z. E., Capdessus, R., Booth, N., Hawkes, S., Neely, D., Gray, R. J. & McKenna, P., 9 Jan 2020, In : Scientific Reports. 10, 10 p., 105.

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

    Open Access
  • 1 Citation (Scopus)
    4 Downloads (Pure)

    An optically multiplexed single-shot time-resolved probe of laser-plasma dynamics

    Davidson, Z. E., Gonzalez Izquierdo, B., Higginson, A., Lancaster, K. L., Williamson, S. D. R., King, M., Farley, D., Neely, D., McKenna, P. & Gray, R. J., 7 Feb 2019, In : Optics Express. 27, 4, p. 4416-4423 8 p.

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

    Open Access
  • 1 Citation (Scopus)
    28 Downloads (Pure)

    Multi-stage scheme for non-linear Breit-Wheeler pair-production utilising ultra-intense laser-solid interactions

    Duff, M. J., Capdessus, R., Ridgers, C. P. & McKenna, P., 23 Jul 2019, In : Plasma Physics and Controlled Fusion. 61, 9, 25 p., 094001.

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

    Open Access
  • Student Theses

    Optimisation and control of ion acceleration in intense laser-foil interactions

    Author: Higginson, A., 22 Jun 2018

    Supervisor: McKenna, P. (Supervisor) & Sheng, Z. (Supervisor)

    Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


    Plenary Talk (Invited) at the International Laser-Plasma Accelerator Workshop 2019

    Paul McKenna (Participant)
    5 May 2019

    Activity: Participating in or organising an event typesKey-note speaker and plenary lectures at conferences

    Invited Talk at the International Conference on High Energy Density Science 2019

    Paul McKenna (Speaker)
    2 Apr 2019

    Activity: Talk or presentation typesInvited talk

    STFC, Rutherford Appleton Lab, CLF

    Paul McKenna (Visiting researcher)
    5 Nov 20187 Dec 2018

    Activity: Visiting an external institution typesVisiting an external academic institution