Scientists awarded funding to investigate quantum physics using intense lasers

An avalanche of electron, positron and photon production in an intense laser pulse. Improving theoretical models of such processes is part of the new research programme. Image credit: A Gonoskov

Scientists at the University of Plymouth are embarking on a £450,000 project to investigate fundamental quantum physics using intense lasers.

Colliding particles moving at close to the speed of light with the ultra-intense light produced by modern lasers produces a wealth of quantum physical effects.

Recent experiments have successfully used this technique to probe fundamental physics, but there remains some disagreement between experimental results and theory predictions.

This has been attributed to shortcomings in the models of quantum effects that are used by researchers to numerically simulate experiments.

The objective of the new research, funded largely through a grant from the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) and led by Dr Anton Ilderton and Dr Ben King, is to address these shortcomings and improve both theoretical and numerical models of intense laser-particle interactions.

Dr Ilderton, Lecturer in Theoretical Physics at the University, said:

“New experiments will begin this year, and will be able to probe the transition from classical to quantum physics in intense electromagnetic fields. In order to ensure that such experiments are properly analysed, it is crucial that we improve our theoretical and numerical models.”

To meet this experimental demand, scientists in Plymouth will use their expertise in quantum field theory to extend numerical models to include currently neglected quantum processes in a systematic way that can be immediately employed by researchers working on the simulation and analysis of experiments.

Dr King added:

“This programme will also impact our understanding of astrophysical objects such as magnetars, where one finds exotic quantum phenomena in some of the strongest magnetic fields in the universe. There are many long-term applications of our research; it is possible, for example, to use intense lasers to generate radiation sources with unique properties, which find applications across the sciences: from biology, where they help our ability to fight illness, to nuclear physics, where they help us perform non-intrusive scanning.”

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