Lasers are the hottest things in physics. Now, the Czech Republic intends to make it even hotter, by building the world’s most powerful laser an exawatt beast – by 2015. This is a part of the European Union’s commitment to remain at the forefront of research in modern physics. The project will be undertaken by a facility under the name of European Light Infrastructure ELI a collaboration spanning 13 EU countries. According to their website, ELI initially intends to set up three sites in Prague.
What is exawatt?
The power (i.e. amount of energy per unit area per second) delivered by a laser is measured in watt’. Since lasers generally have very high power ratings (over a small surface they dump in a lot of energy), higher units like kilowatt (thousand watt) or megawatt (million watt) are used. Exawatt is a million million megawatts, an unbelievably high amount of energy!
The catch with time
The catch with lasers is that they can emit a lot of energy in a single short pulse, or they can continuously emit energy with low intensity. Thus, powerful lasers are always pulse lasers, having short pulse times. The exawatt laser, which is slated to become operational by 2015, will have a pulse time of just 1.5 x 10-14 s. While that might look really small (and it is!), but experimentalists do conduct high-energy physics experiments at these time-scales.
Where it will stand
The powerful lasers available today have wattage in the range of terawatt (which is a million megawatts). The most powerful lasers push that to 100 terawatts, nearing a petawatt (a thousand terawatt). This laser by ELI will raise the bar by thousand times that amount!
What are its uses?
Its uses in scientific research purpose primarily probing reactions occurring at super fast rates. The laser may also be used for future cancer treatment and nuclear waste management.
This is the first real big research project to be funded by EU in an Eastern European country and this will also be one of the most expensive ones, costing about 700 million Euro.