Plasma wakefield acceleration (PWFA) is a novel acceleration technique with promising prospects for both particle colliders and light sources. However, PWFA research has so far been limited to a few large-scale accelerator facilities worldwide. Here, we present first results on plasma wakefield generation using electron beams accelerated with a 100-TW-class Ti:sapphire laser. Because of their ultrashort duration and high charge density, the laser-accelerated electron bunches are suitable to drive plasma waves at electron densities in the order of 1019 cm-3. We capture the beam-induced plasma dynamics with femtosecond resolution using few-cycle optical probing and, in addition to the plasma wave itself, we observe a distinctive transverse ion motion in its trail. This previously unobserved phenomenon can be explained by the ponderomotive force of the plasma wave acting on the ions, resulting in a modulation of the plasma density over many picoseconds. Because of the scaling laws of plasma wakefield generation, results obtained at high plasma density using high-current laser-accelerated electron beams can be readily scaled to low-density systems. Laser-driven PWFA experiments can thus act as miniature models for their larger, conventional counterparts. Furthermore, our results pave the way towards a novel generation of laser-driven PWFA, which can potentially provide ultralow emittance beams within a compact setup.
- plasma physics
- plasma wakefield acceleration