Plasma physics - laser science at extreme intensities


​​Laser-plasma interaction using the Vulcan Petawatt laser


When an intense laser pulse interacts with a solid, liquid or gas, it very quickly drives​ it into the fourth state of matter; plasma. A plasma is formed when electrons are released from their host atoms in the presence of the extremely high electric fields of the laser, generating a gaseous soup of subatomic particles consisting of ions and electrons.

All types of radiation are given off during a high power laser-plasma interaction, including beams of electrons, protons, ions, X-rays, gamma rays and neutrons. The radiation is sampled using various diagnostics in the target chamber, which can you give you information about the interaction, such as the plasma temperature. The laser-plasma only exists for the briefest of times, much less than a billionth of a second, but a lot of very interesting and useful physics can go on in that time.

Why are we interested in high power lasers?