The University of Michigan is known for milestones.
The Peace Corps started at the University when President John F. Kennedy stood on the steps of the Michigan Union to announce his plan for the program. Michigan Stadium is known across the country as the nation’s largest football stadium, seating around 110,000 fans at every game.
And then, of course, there’s that laser University researchers just developed – the one they say could be the most powerful in the universe.
Physics and Engineering Prof. Karl Krushelnick said in a statement that the intensity that could be produced by the newly-built laser beam is equivalent to holding a giant magnifying glass in space and focusing all the sunlight shining toward Earth onto one grain of sand.
Interestingly enough, though, the University appears to have broken its own record.
University researchers produced a beam in 2004 that was said to be the world’s strongest. The most recent laser surpassed the old one when researchers added a second amplifier to it.
The laser, called HERCULES, now produces beams that are 1.3-micron specks – about one-hundredth the diameter of a human hair – that measure 20 billion trillion watts per square centimeter. The beams have 300 terawatts of power, which is 300 times the capacity of the entire U.S. power grid.
“This intensity is about two orders of magnitude higher than any other laser in the world can produce,” said Victor Yanovsky, a University researcher who built the ultra-high power system over the past six years.
The beams may help develop better proton and electron beams, which could possibly lead to new cancer treatments. At more intense levels, the laser beams could potentially create matter by simply focusing light onto an empty space.
While the intensity of the laser beam is record-breaking, Yanovsky said that wasn’t the most significant innovation. The laser can produce beams once every 10 seconds, whereas other powerful lasers can take up to an hour to recharge.
“It’s the repetition of producing the laser that makes it the first of its kind in the world,” Yanovsky said.