Laser-driven particle and photon beams and some applications
Outstanding progress has been made in high-power laser technology in the last 10 years with laser powers reaching petawatt (PW) values. At present, there are 15 PW lasers built or being built around the world and plans are afoot for new, even higher power, lasers reaching values of exawatt (EW) or even zetawatt (ZW) powers. Petawatt lasers generate electric fields of 10 12 V m −1 with a large fraction of the total pulse energy being converted to relativistic electrons with energies reaching in excess of 1 GeV. In turn these electrons result in the generation of beams of protons, heavy ions, neutrons and high-energy photons. These laser-driven particle beams have encouraged many to think of carrying out experiments normally associated with conventional nuclear accelerators and reactors. To this end a number of introductory articles have been written under a trial name 'Laser Nuclear Physics' (Ledingham and Norreys 1999 Contemp. Phys. 40 367, Ledingham et al 2002 Europhys. News. 33 120, Ledingham et al 2003 Science 300 1107, Takabe et al 2001 J. Plasma Fusion Res. 77 1094). However, even greater strides have been made in the last 3 or 4 years in laser technology and it is timely to reassess the potential of laser-driven particle and photon beams. It must be acknowledged right from the outset that to date laser-driven particle beams have yet to compete favourably with conventional nuclear accelerator-generated beams in any way and so this is not a paper comparing laser and conventional accelerators. However, occasionally throughout the paper as a reality check, it will be mentioned what conventional nuclear accelerators can do.