Move over Dr. Evil! Japan fires world’s most-powerful laser beam

© Phil Noble
Scientists at the Osaka University have shot the world’s most powerful laser beam, they claim. The pulse measured 2 petawatts delivered over 1 picosecond.

The record-breaking beam was shot by Laser for Fast Ignition Experiments (LFEX), a 100-meter-long apparatus that had been upgraded with four amplification devices at the end of last year.

LFEX only used several hundred Joules of energy – enough to run a microwave or a 100-watt light bulb for about two seconds – to achieve the record. But the energy was delivered over the short period of one-trillionth of a second, resulting in the high power output. The team is already working on further increasing the laser’s performance.

"With heated competition in the world to improve the performance of lasers, our goal now is to increase our output to 10 petawatts," said the institute's Junji Kawanaka, an associate professor of electrical engineering at the university.

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Petawatt-range LFEX was built for research in nuclear fusion ignition, a technique that involves shooting a powerful beam at a pellet of fusion fuel such as deuterium to start a chain reaction similar to that in a star. The hope is that eventually the technology would allow generating more energy that that used to start the reaction, resulting in a new type of power plant.

Fast ignition is an approach different from conventional inertial confinement fusion. Instead of compressing a target by simultaneously shooting numerous beams from all directions to compress and heat the pellet it delivers one powerful very short pulse at a pre-compressed target to heat it.