Case studies

Probing the universe

Zepler Institute researchers are combining thousands of fibre lasers to develop a source that will enable a more powerful, compact particle accelerator.

Fibre lasers were pioneered by researchers at Southampton and today they are used in a plethora of applications from welding cars to cosmetic surgery. These revolutionary lasers, renowned for being stable, efficient sources producing high average powers, are now being investigated for an entirely new application: particle acceleration

Today’s particle accelerators are huge structures, tens of kilometres long. By contrast, a particle accelerator based on fibre lasers could be less than 100m long and use even higher energies to probe the fundamental structure of the universe. Zepler Institute researchers are involved in the international ICAN project which seeks to to develop fibre lasers for precisely this application.

At present, the lasers available consume too much power and can only produce the ultrafast laser pulses required to yield acceleration around once per second. However, a solution may lie in combining the output of thousands of pulsed fibre lasers, a novel laser system that researchers at the Zepler Institute are seeking to develop using their track record in the design and fabrication of new optical fibres. This new laser system could also have other innovative applications such as proton therapy for cancer patients, nuclear transmutation for cleaning up radioactive waste and in a new class of accelerator-driven nuclear reactors, not reliant on chain reactions and therefore more easily switched off.

Click to read more about the impact of high power fibre lasers in manufacturing, telecommunications and medicine.