UB partnering on world-leading EP-OPAL laser at University of Rochester

NSF funds planning for ultrahigh-intensity laser facility that could reestablish U.S. leadership in field of high-peak-power lasers

By Sofia Tokar, University of Rochester

Release Date: September 27, 2023

Eva Zurek portrait.
“A new facility of this caliber would serve an even broader and more diverse scientific community while enabling revolutionary research experiments. ”
Eva Zurek, professor of chemistry
University at Buffalo College of Arts and Sciences

BUFFALO, N.Y. — The University at Buffalo is part of a National Science Foundation (NSF)-backed project that aims to create the highest-power laser system in the world at the University of Rochester. 

NSF has awarded the University of Rochester nearly $18 million over three years to design and prototype key technologies for EP-OPAL, a new facility dedicated to the study of ultrahigh-intensity laser-matter interactions. 

The facility could be built at the Laboratory for Laser Energetics (LLE) upon completion of the design project. LLE houses two very powerful lasers — OMEGA and OMEGA EP — that are used by scientists from around the world. 

EP-OPAL — which stands for OMEGA EP-coupled Optical Parametric Amplifier Lines (OPAL) — will be designed to add two of the most powerful lasers in the world and to harness the capabilities of the high-energy OMEGA EP laser. 

“A new facility of this caliber would serve an even broader and more diverse scientific community while enabling revolutionary research experiments across four different areas of frontier science that I will lead along with my co-principal investigators,” says EP-OPAL co-principal investigator Eva Zurek, professor of chemistry in the UB College of Arts and Sciences. Zurek is also a senior investigator with the Center for Matter at Atomic Pressures (CMAP), an NSF-Physics Frontiers Center hosted at the University Rochester.

High-intensity lasers enable a large and important body of pioneering science — from plasma science to particle acceleration, laboratory astrophysics to laser-driven nuclear physics — that has resulted in scientific, medical, commercial and industrial applications. Super-intense laser beams allow scientists to create extreme conditions in their own laboratories that are now found only in the most exotic parts of the universe.

EP-OPAL is envisioned to provide laser capabilities beyond those currently available internationally, helping to reestablish United States leadership in the field of high-peak-power lasers and the fundamental science that it enables.

A successful EP-OPAL design would enable the highest-power laser system in the world, according to principal investigator Jonathan Zuegel, a distinguished scientist at LLE and a professor of optics at the University of Rochester. 

“Its two laser beams combined will deliver laser pulses with peak power approaching the same total power as incident on the Earth’s surface from the Sun, but focused into an area smaller than the cross-section of a human hair,” Zuegel says.

In addition to UB, other partner institutions include the University of California–Irvine, the University of Notre Dame, the University of Maryland, the University of Michigan, Ohio State University and Plymouth Grating Laboratory in Massachusetts.

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