Strathclyde University acquires one of the world’s most powerful lasers from Thales

One of the world’s most powerful lasers – designed and built by Thales – capable of bursts of light equivalent to twenty times all the power consumed on Earth in a fraction of a second – has been acquired by the University of Strathclyde.

The £3.5 million device is able to deliver peak powers with the highest repetition rate of any laser currently operational in a university laboratory, and can briefly recreate the physical conditions, such as pressures and temperatures, found in stars.

The laser has numerous scientific applications including medical imaging, radiotherapy and generation of radioisotopes for imaging and cancer therapy. It has been installed by Thales at the Strathclyde-based Scottish Centre for the Application of Plasma-based Accelerators (SCAPA), which delivers research into next-generation accelerators and radiation technology.

Dr Gregor Welsh, a Research Fellow in Strathclyde’s Department of Physics and Laser Manager of SCAPA, said: “This is a world-leading laser for any university – indeed, we believe it is the highest average powered lab-based laser of its type anywhere in the world. It acts as a light source which drives the applications and produces x-ray pulses that are short enough to take snapshots of molecular or solid-state processes.”

The laser can produce beams with a peak power of 350 terawatts (350×1012 Watts) – equivalent to twenty times the world’s power consumption, or the sun’s power reaching the earth over an area of 500 km x 500 km, for 25 femtoseconds (25×10-15 seconds), and produce up to 14 Joules of energy per pulse at 5 pulses per second (5 Hertz).

The laser has been funded by Strathclyde and by the Scottish Universities Physics Alliance (SUPA), a partnership involving Strathclyde committed to sharing resources, strategic planning and expertise in physics research. It was designed and built by Thales.

The Research Excellence Framework 2014, the comprehensive rating of UK universities’ research, ranked the University of Strathclyde’s Physics research first in the UK, with 96% of output assessed as world-leading or internationally excellent.