Joint Research Activities 2012-2015

A number of major trends have been clearly emerging during the last few years in the field of lasers and their applications, guiding the next steps in laser research. First, in all fields of science the study of short temporal and nano-scopic spatial events are the frontiers to be explored, requiring ultra-short radiation pulses which are tuneable in an extremely wide spectral range from THz to X-rays. Second, high-power and high-energy lasers are frequently the key to novel applications and new science, but only if low repetition rates, low average powers, and low energy efficiency can be overcome. Third, laser acceleration has a huge potential as a source of energetic particles, and for applications of general relevance (e.g., material sciences and medicine), linking also lasers to the accelerator-based light sources. Forth, laser tools and techniques have been flourishing in very active, autonomous and sophisticated applications, especially in biology and biomedicine.

Laserlab-Europe is timely following and strongly supporting all these evolutions, both for pushing the scientific frontiers and maintaining a leading role in the global competition, but also for the sake of the European users who will continue to find the latest in state-of-the-art equipment for laser science, innovation and interdisciplinary research. The following four JRAs constitute a substantial step forward beyond the present state-of-the-art (in part, even beyond the present JRAs), and should help preparing the Consortium, its users and its allies like ELI and HiPER for the future:

- Innovative radiation sources at the extremes (INREX)
- Charged particles with intense lasers (CHARPAC)
- European Research Objectives on Laser for Innovation, Technology and Energy (EURO-LITE)
- Laser and photonics for biology and health (BIOPTICHAL)

Thanks to the shortest pulse durations produced using laser-like sources in an extremely broad spectrum, the secondary sources of radiation are offering new scientific opportunities for users. Compared with free-electron lasers, laser-driven secondary sources are intrinsically synchronised with lasers. This allows to gain very rich insights into matter dynamics on unprecedented time and space scales, performing jitter-free pump-probe experiments (THz+X-rays; laser+attosecond pulses; X-ray+attosecond pulses etc.). INREX will focus on ongoing research (theoretical, numerical, and experimental) on and with these sources and their corresponding diagnostics. The goal is to provide unprecedented tools (beamlines) for exploring, with ultra-high time resolution and within an extremely broad frequency domain, ultrafast phenomena in physics of matter, plasma physics, biology and chemistry. Pushing the limits of secondary sources will also provide important basic insights to the development and implementation of the ELI radiation beamlines.

Laser-driven acceleration of particles has opened important new perspectives for major applications in science, technology and health care. By focusing intense laser pulses onto a target it is possible to produce high quality and energetic particle beams. However, applications in these areas are hampered by the present limitations of laser-accelerated beams. CHARPAC is aiming to substantially improve the control of the beam parameters such as energy, energy spread, divergence, emittance, and current, which are essential requirements for unravelling and determining potential applications. This JRA will address several of these important questions for the case of ion and electron beams determining also fruitful basic inputs to the development of dedicated ELI particle beamlines.

Development of efficient diode-pumped solid-state laser systems capable of delivering high-energy (up to multi-kJ), short-duration pulses at multi-Hz repetition rates with an excellent temporal and spatial quality is at the core of modern laser development, and absolutely crucial for both ELI and HiPER. EURO-LITE focuses at laser physics bottlenecks crucial not only for these ESFRI infrastructures, but also for numerous other research laser systems throughout Europe. They include: (i) improving temporal contrast by several orders of magnitude; (ii) laser amplification studies on gain medium, laser-induced damage, pump source and thermal management; (iii) attosecond laser technology. Connections and cooperation with industries will allow wider use, exploitation of the intellectual assets, and capitalisation of the results.

The demand and interest from the biomedical community for development and application of innovative tools needed to address open scientific issues, is continuously growing. Requests are coming from molecular and cell biology for the visualization and manipulation of single molecules and cells and for the development of tools capable to image biological processes in living animals. A high demand is also rising from medicine for the characterization of living tissues, disease diagnosis and therapy. BIOPTICHAL will address key developments of innovative workstations and methodologies based on state-of-the-art instruments exploiting pulsed laser sources and laser-based super-resolution microscopy techniques. These activities will result in a European-wide concerted effort providing new access opportunities for the biomedical community, especially for medical doctors and, thus, reaching out to new communities.

Embedded within a changing European Research Area (ERA) and positioned between single principal investigator groups on the one hand, and pan-European Infrastructures on the other, Laserlab-Europe understands itself as the central place in Europe where new developments in laser research will take place in a flexible and co-ordinated fashion beyond the potential of a national scale.