'U' to be home to most powerful laser in country

Tuesday, October 15, 2019 - 7:40pm

Anatoly Maksimchuk, EECS Research Scientist, and John Nees, EECS Associate Research Scientist, demonstrate use of the HERCULES 300 TW laser in the Carl A. Gerstacker Building on North Campus of the University of Michigan on September 5, 2017.

Anatoly Maksimchuk, EECS Research Scientist, and John Nees, EECS Associate Research Scientist, demonstrate use of the HERCULES 300 TW laser in the Carl A. Gerstacker Building on North Campus of the University of Michigan on September 5, 2017. Buy this photo
Courtesy of the College of Engineering

The National Science Foundation awarded the University of Michigan a $16 million grant on Oct. 1 to expand a 0.5-petawatt laser known as HERCULES into one of the country’s most powerful lasers. With the grant, the laser will be renamed ZEUS and will have 10 times the power of the original laser. The updated laser is scheduled to open in 2024 following laboratory renovations and equipment additions. 

ZEUS is a system of lasers that makes it possible for scientists to conduct multiple experiments at the same time. HERCULES was the first high-power laser to be stationed at a university and the new addition will only expand its capabilities. Karl Krushelnick, professor and director of the Center for Ultrafast Optical Science, explained why ZEUS can contain such high-intensity energy.

“This is 3,000 times higher than the power generation capacity of the entire United States,”  Krushelnick said. “(It’s) possible because it’s not continuous — it’s a pulse, it’s a really short pulse,” “So the peak hour is much higher than all the power stations running in the United States, but that's only because we store the energy and made it in very, very short bursts of time. And the short burst of light makes … it so you can focus (the energy).” 

ZEUS will be a facility that allows outside users from all over the country to conduct their own research. The process of getting access to the ZEUS laser will include sending a proposal to be reviewed by a panel at the University. The proposals will allow outside users to work with ZEUS for a month to create data for their own research. Under these terms, the National Science Foundation will continue to fund ZEUS in the future. 

Rackham student Paul Campbell said making ZEUS a user facility will give more opportunities for graduate students across the country to participate in research.

“Not only will we be able to do sort of world-class research here for ourselves, but we will also be able to build a community of users from other institutions around the U.S. and around the world to come and use our facility and develop collaborations,” Campbell said. “At the moment, there aren’t that many facilities capable of doing what this will be able to.”

Rackham student Brandon Russell said ZEUS could lead to new realms of physics which have yet to be explored.

“I think ZEUS will sort of unlock a lot of physics that has only been theorized for a while now,” Russell said. “The area of quantum electrodynamics has a whole set of theories that have been tested in very small experiments. There’s very few shots or data on those experiments. So having a facility like this, that will be able to collect a lot of data in that area.”