Pioneering the world’s most powerful lasers

A vast new complex close to Prague is to host a cutting-edge research laser, around 100 times more powerful than any other laser in operation today.

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ELI (Extreme Light Infrastructure) Beamlines is a new facility for groundbreaking fundamental research. One of three key pillars in a flagship project for EU scientific research into lasers, it will also develop various applications and technology for use in astrophysics, medicine, and materials.

Extensive infrastructure

Located in the village of Dolní Břežany, some nine kilometres south of the Czech Republic’s capital, the facility aims to pioneer work in a number of research fields using ultra-high intensity lasers. Once operational in 2015, it will produce intense laser pulses up to 20 petawatts, equivalent to many thousands of times the power of the planet’s entire combined electricity production – but just for a few trillionths of a second.

This Czech facility and its impressive laser will not be entirely unique. Two complementary facilities, each housing their own powerful lasers, are being built in Hungary and Romania. Together they make up the EU’s ELI project, an international large-scale facility for new and emerging laser technologies capable of generating the world’s most intense light pulses. A fourth and more powerful laser will be constructed later, drawing on lessons learned from the three prototypes.

The project is part of a broader European roadmap for tomorrow’s major research facilities, like the well-known Large Hadron Collider particle accelerator. It will be managed in accordance with a new governance model designed for the European Research Infrastructure Consortium (ERIC).

Complex science, tangible results

Managed by the Czech Institute of Physics, ELI Beamlines features an administrative building (around 11 000 m2) and a large laser-research building with laboratories (totalling almost 16 000 m2). Sophisticated technology for the site includes laser systems, compressors of optical pulses, vacuum systems, a computing facility, and data storage. Start-up activities are also part of the project – such as setting up a technology transfer centre and library services; these are required for the operation of a European Centre of Excellence.

Site research activities will be divided into six specific laser-based programmes. Fundamental research is to include experimental study of basic concepts that underpin complex science, such as a vacuum’s structure. Results could throw light on astrophysical phenomena, especially pulsars, brown dwarfs, and warm dense matter.

The facility’s other main focus will be developing technology and applications. The new ultra-short laser pulses could lead to better understanding of materials, molecules and living cells – and thus improved medical diagnostics of diseases such as cancer.

Above all, the ELI facility will produce an entirely new generation of secondary sources driven by ultra-intense lasers. These sources will produce pulses of radiation and particles, which could be used either as new tools in many research areas or for developing new technologies.

The project is a unique opportunity for the Czech Republic to host major international infrastructure, which could help it attract further investment in advanced technologies. By the end of 2015, the facility will have 270 R&D staff and some 120 graduate students; it should also have generated 10 protected R&D results and four applied research results.

Total and EU funding

The project “ELI: Extreme Light Infrastructure” has a total eligible budget of EUR 277 687 900, with the EU’s European Regional Development Fund contributing EUR 236 034 700 for the 2007 to 2013 programming period.

Draft date