Get to know the CLF Lasers
16 Apr 2018
- Emily Cooke



Our lasers have made it into the Guiness Book of World Records, been broadcast on national radio and even created supernovas in the laboratory.




Last year, the Central Laser Facility (CLF) celebrated its fortieth anniversary. For nearly half a century, our lasers have allowed scientists from around the world to complete cutting-edge research. Our lasers have made it into the Guinness Book of World Records, been broadcast on national radio and even created supernovas in the laboratory. We are really proud of them and the scientists and engineers who work behind the scenes to ensure that everything runs smoothly, allowing users to generate results that feature in high-quality journals. Whilst the lasers we run may have changed ever-so-slightly since 1977, one fact remains true - the science undertaken at the CLF is truly ground-​breaking.

The High Power Lasers

Members of the CLF community like to divide our six lasers into two broad categories; the High Power Lasers and the Lasers for Science.

If you've only heard of one of our lasers then there is a really high probability that it is Vulcan. This might be because it is our oldest laser (first shot on 28th April 1977) or more likely because it is one of the most powerful lasers in the world, capable of producing a focused beam that is 10,000 times more powerful than the National Grid!

Vulcan is a petawatt (1015) laser system. It is used for experiments researching fusion energy, electron and ion acceleration, laboratory astrophysics and plasma physics. In Roman Mythology, Vulcan is the god of fire, volcanoes, metalworking and the forge. A better personification could not have been used for a laser as powerful as Vulcan.  

Did you know?  In 2005, Vulcan made the history books as a Guinness World Record holder, certified as being the world's most intense laser.

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Illustration by Helen Towrie, CLF

Artemis is the CLF's facility for ultrafast XUV (extreme ultraviolet) science. In fact, the Artemis beamline is actually one of the first in the world to use XUV pulses from high-order laser harmonics for photoemission.  Experiments on Artemis investigate ultra-fast electron dynamics in condensed matter and gas-phase molecules.

The Applications of XUV pulses on Artemis are vast, covering topics such as high harmonic generation spectroscopy and ultrafast demagnetisation.

Did you know?  Opened in 2008, the combination of short pulses and XUV from the Artemis laser means that scientists can actually create 'movies' of electrons moving within molecules and 2D materials.

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Illustration by Helen Towrie, CLF

The illustration below depicts the Gemini twins, known for being energetic, clever and imaginative. Whilst our Gemini laser might not be linked to Greek Mythology, it does come as a pair.  In fact, Gemini was upgraded from the previous Astra laser back in 2007, making the CLF the first facility in the world to provide a dual-beam system of high power, super-intense light.

Today, Gemini is a high power, ultra-short pulse, high repetition laser. Experiments on Gemini produce bright, coherent x-ray sources, or energetic beams of electrons and protons.

Did you know?  In 2013, the CLF joined a partnership with the UK's Defence Science and Technology Laboratory (DSTL) to develop laser-based x-ray radar techniques using the Gemini laser. Scientists hope that these techniques will be used to detect landmines and conduct other below-surface security inspections. 

gemini image.png

Illustration by Helen Towrie, CLF

Dipole, whilst designed and constructed at the CLF, is not actually located at the Rutherford Appleton Laboratory anymore. Instead, it now resides in the HiLASE Centre in the Czech Republic.

DIPOLE 100 (to call it by its official name) is a high energy, high repetition rate, high efficiency pulsed laser technology. It has many potential applications including diverse fields such as materials processing, communications, medical applications, orbital debris removal and laser-driven fusion.

Developed and patented in 2012, the DIPOLE diode pumped solid state laser is capable of firing ten-times a second! Consequently, it has become a key technology for commercial-scale laser accelerators and fusion drivers. A second laser, D100-X is currently being built for the XFEL, an X-ray free-electron laser in Hamburg.

Did you know?  The DIPOLE 100 laser recently became the official most powerful laser of its kind in the world. 

dipole image.png

Illustration by Helen Towrie, CLF

Lasers for Science 

Launched in 1985, the Lasers for Science cluster operates both the OCTOPUS imaging cluster and the ULTRA cluster designed to promote high-impact interdisciplinary research in the life and physical sciences.

Housed within the Research Complex at Harwell, the Octopus imaging cluster offers a range of imaging techniques including multidimensional single molecule microscopy, confocal microscopy and optical profilometry to address major challenges in the life sciences.

Recent research at the Octopus facility includes investigations into DNA damage, cancer cell therapy and plant metabolism.

Did you know?  The name OCTOPUS is actually an acronym which stands for 'Optics Clustered to OutPut Unique Solutions.'  For many people, however, the name has come to symbolise the many branches of the imaging facility. 

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Illustration by Helen Towrie, CLF

The sister facility to Octopus is the Ultra laser, opened back in 2008. Ultra combines laser, detector and sample manipulation technology to probe molecular dynamics on the femtosecond to microsecond timescales.

Using Ultra, scientists can combine multiple beams, multiple colours (UV to mid-IR), mixed timing patterns (fs- µs) and pulse length (40 fs, 50 fs, 120 fs, 2-3 ps, 0.8 ns and continuous wave) courtesy of the range of ultrafast light sources that Ultra provides.  This laser is one of the world's most sensitive time-resolved spectrometers, that takes thousands of snapshots of molecules per second, making it ideal for studying the dynamics of complex biological systems.

Recent research includes an investigation into the secondary structure of a key calcium binding protein - Calmodulin - and in molecule scale electronic switches demonstrating sign-posting of electrons.

Did you know? The Ultra laser developed from a project known as PIRATE, as part of the LSF Ultrafast Spectroscopy Laboratory. Don't think we'll be seeing Blackbeard any time soon though!

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Illustration by Helen Towrie, CLF

Contact: Cooke, Emily (STFC,RAL,ISIS)