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Can an intense laser rip photons into electron-positron pairs? Seeking to shed light on this burning question is the ELI ('Extreme light infrastructure') project, which received EUR 6 million in funding under the 'Infrastructures' Theme of the EU's Seventh Framework Programme (FP7). The project partners have set their sights on making ELI the first infrastructure to approach this limit - over six orders of magnitude higher than today's laser intensity.
From now until 2010, the 15 partners from 13 EU Member States will develop the infrastructure for the generation of laser beams with intensities that are over 1,000 times higher than the values being obtained today.
The chairman of Romania's National Authority for Scientific Research (ANCS) has announced that Romania will be a host country for the infrastructure. Marius Enachescu told reporters that Romania will play a central role in the construction of a European infrastructure, a complex of high-power lasers and particle accelerators, southeast of the capital of Bucharest.
'This project will place Romania on the map of European facilities,' Dr Enachescu remarked. 'Researchers from around the world will come to Romania, which will have important positive consequences on the country's image and its industry.'
As a partner, the Institute of Physics at the Academy of Sciences of the Czech Republic is responsible for generating high-intensity laser beams, and the Hungarian Academy of Sciences is tackling attosecond physics.
Dr Enachescu pointed out that the lasers' power will be on the scale of petawatts (1 quadrillion watts) and hexawatts. Production of such a laser device would be 'a second laser revolution in medicine, after a first one that marked the use of laser in surgery', he said.
According to the researchers, their infrastructure will be able to offer power in the blink of an eye. Basically, the times will be measured in attoseconds (1 attosecond equals a billionth of a billionth of a second), resulting in power that is equivalent to more than 10,000 times the power produced by all laser beam generators found on earth.
Dr Enachescu pointed out that this new and improved infrastructure will enable exploration of areas that are currently inaccessible, such as laser-matter interaction at the highest intensity level where relativistic laws may no longer suffice, and will allow research into the dynamics of electrons within atoms, molecules, plasmas and solids, up to creating particle-antiparticle pairs in vacuum.
ELI is focusing on becoming a multidisciplinary platform with specialised laser, particle or radiation beam lines for a number of scientific fields including nuclear, atomic, particle, cosmology and gravitational, as well as for social sciences.
Environment, life sciences, material science and nanotechnology will also profit from the results of the project. ELI also will be instrumental in promoting the transfer of technology, education and training.
The results of this project will also fuel the development of small-size particle accelerators of parameters that resemble big accelerators that are currently available. Also, the applications can be used in anti-cancer therapies, as well as for decreasing the life cycle of radioactive waste from millions of years to some tens of minutes.
Other ELI members include Sofia University (Bulgaria), the Prague Asterix Laser System (Czech Republic), SOLEIL (France), the Max Planck Institute of Quantum Optics (Germany), the Technical University of Crete (Greece), the University of Pécs (Hungary), the Laser Research Center (Lithuania) and the MUT (Military University of Technology) Institute of Optoelectronics (Poland).
For more information, please visit: ELI: www.extreme-ligh-infrastructure.eu
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