Vulcan 20-20 Upgrade
08 Mar 2018



The CLF is aiming to build the most powerful laser in the world through a major upgrade to the existing Vulcan laser facility.

A Large blue and grey panelled building rendered by computer. Silver signage on the sides of the building say "Vulcan 20-20"

​​​​​​​​​​​​​​Vulcan 20-20 building design


A Large blue and grey panelled building rendered by computer. Silver signage on the sides of the building say "Vulcan 20-20" Impression of the extended Vulcan 20-20 facility.


This ambitious £82M upgrade project will last six years. The name ‘Vulcan 20-20’ was born from the exciting technical specifications of the new laser - the facility will house a single 20 Petawatt beam together with additional laser beams (up to 8 beams) with a total energy output of up to 20 Kilojoules.


Vulcan 20-20 will be able to study a range of subjects in brand new detail, for example:

  • Learning about astrophysical phenomena by using lasers as tools to replicate interstellar conditions.   
  • Aiding in research towards a potential new frontier for clean energy, laser fusion.
  • Expand the possibilities of plasma physics and its technological applications.​
  • The ground-breaking power of Vulcan 20-20 may mean we will be able to conduct physics experiments that step into brand new unknowns and explore beyond the present Standard Model.

With the significant expansion of the CLF’s flagship laser facility, we are creating new roles to fill in science and engineering. The project will require a wide range of expertise from for post-docs, PhDs, graduate trainees to technician and apprentices. ​Find details of the current posts available here!​​​

Further Details

The Vulcan 20-20 project will increase the peak power of the Vulcan laser by 20 times, taking it from 1PW (500J in 500fs) to 20PW (400J in 20fs).

Additionally, we will increase the long pulse energy we can deliver. This will be achieved by upgrading our traditional six long pulse beams to give 10KJ and enabling the delivery of the other high energy beams, used as pump sources, to give up to 20KJ of energy. We will retain the existing 100TW (100J in 1ps) capability and the VOPPEL beamline (30J in 30fs) to offer the scientific community access to a unique combination of beamlines to study matter under extreme conditions. The footprint of the existing facility will be extended to the south and the west.

The upgraded facility will offer two large experimental areas located on the ground floor. The current Target Area West will have its walls thickened and it will be enlarged to the south and west. Target Area Petawatt will have the same footprint, but the current PW capability will be removed. Both experimental areas will have new interaction chambers capable of fielding a new suite of plasma diagnostics. Located between the two experimental areas will be a new compressor area which will be used to compress the 20PW pulses that are generated on the second floor. ​​

Vulcan 20-20 ground floor diagram. 

Proposed ground floor of the upgraded facility showing the 2 experimental areas.

The second floor of the extension will house the laser generation and amplification areas for the 20PW and VOPPEL beamlines. Both the 20PW and VOPPEL beamlines will be based on the technique of Optical Parametric Chirped Amplification which uses three-wave-mixing in non-linear crystals to convert energy from an energetic pump beam to increase the energy of a seed beam. The pump lasers for the beamlines will be on this floor too, there will be 2 x 2KJ beams needed to generate the 20PW pump laser and we are developing the technology to enable these pump lasers to be fired more rapidly. ​

diagrams of the 2nd floor of Vulcan 20-20 and a cross-section showing the double-height ceiling of the ground floor.
​Potential 2nd floor layout of the extension showing the seed generation, amplification and pump laser areas. Parts of the ground floor will be double-height as shown in the cross-section diagram.

For the long pulse upgrade of our traditional six long pulse beams, we will need to reconfigure the current laser beam arrangements in the ground floor laser areas. We will convert them into a multi-pass arrangement, meaning that the pulses being amplified will pass through the same amplifier four times so that we can efficiently extract the energy that they contain. Each of the upgraded beams will be capable of generating ~1.6KJ and will be frequency doubled to the second harmonic before delivery to the experimental areas. To provide the energy for the new amplifiers the long pulse upgrade and the 20PW beamline we will need an additional capacitor bank that will be used to store electrical energy before it is released into the flash-lamps where it is converted to light and absorbed by the glass in the amplifiers.

Contact: Hernandez-Gomez, Cristina (STFC,RAL,CLF)