• £85m Programme at CLF to build Vulcan 20-20 Laser
    Vulcan is a petawatt laser system, used for experiments researching fusion energy, electron and ion acceleration, laboratory astrophysics and plasma physics. (Credit: STFC)

Research News

£85m Programme at CLF to build Vulcan 20-20 Laser

Sep 28 2023

Following an award of £85 million by UKRI, the Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFTC) Central Laser Facility (CLF) is to undertake a major upgrade including construction of the Vulcan 20-20 laser, set to be the most powerful laser in the world.

Based at the Rutherford Appleton Laboratory in South Oxfordshire, CLF harnesses the power of lasers for diverse experiments in areas including renewable energy research, creation of 3D mapping visualising how COVID infects and damages cells and the invention of a technique to scan closed containers to obtain a chemical fingerprint of contents, which is currently used in airport screening.

The current Vulcan laser at CLF has been predominantly used in plasma physics where normal matter is placed in extreme conditions such as very high temperatures or pressures. With competition in laser technology having grown considerably and the Vulcan laser oversubscribed with applications since first opening in 1997, the new development will help to address the clear need for increased access to next generation laser technology for the scientific community.

The Vulcan 20-20 upgrade programme, expected to complete in six years, will produce a main laser beam with a power output of 20 Petawatts (PW), alongside eight additional beams with an output of up to 20kJ. With a 20-fold increase in power making it 100 times brighter than its predecessor, the new laser will be set to create unprecedented amounts of antimatter in plasma to yield insights into conditions usually only found in astrophysical objects like pulsars or gamma ray bursters.

The programme will also develop CLF laser amplification technology, using a technique called Optical Parametric Chirped Pulse Amplification (OPCPA), an exciting initiative that has been decades in the making; CLF first published a paper introducing the concept of OPCPA  predicting that the method could be used to boost high power laser power in 1997 and has been refining the concept ever since.

Professor John Collier, Director of the Central Laser Facility, said: “Vulcan has been the flagship laser at CLF for many years and widely recognised internationally as a pioneering facility. Over the past 40 years, it has made important contributions to plasma physics research and hundreds of PhD students have been trained at the facility. It is timely for Vulcan to undergo its next major upgrade, making it ready to serve a new generation of scientists, ensuring the UK retains its leadership role in this field.”

Operations at the Vulcan facility are scheduled to stop by the end of September to allow the building work to commence in Spring 2024. The Vulcan 20-20 program is funded by UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) primarily via the UKRI Infrastructure Fund.

STFC and CLF are currently recruiting for a range of roles to support the Vulcan 2020 upgrade programme including engineers, technicians, and project managers. All roles will be posted on the CLF website on the link below.

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