Computer simulations show that blasting plastic with strong laser pulses could produce gamma rays with unprecedented intensity, good for fundamental physics experiments and possibly cancer treatments.
Intense beams of gamma rays would find a host of uses in fundamental physics research, nuclear fusion, and medicine, but they are hard to produce. A team has now used computer simulations to show that a powerful laser hitting a plastic surface can generate intense gamma-ray emission. In the simulations, the laser light creates a plasma in the plastic and accelerates electrons enough to produce large numbers of gamma-ray photons.
Ref: Enhanced Multi-MeV Photon Emission by a Laser-Driven Electron Beam in a Self-Generated Magnetic Field. Physical Review Letters (6 May 2016) | DOI: 10.1103/PhysRevLett.116.185003
We use numerical simulations to demonstrate that a source of collimated multi-MeV photons with high conversion efficiency can be achieved using an all-optical single beam setup at an intensity of 5×1022 W/cm2 that is already within reach of existing laser facilities. In the studied setup, an unprecedented quasistatic magnetic field (0.4 MT) is driven in a significantly overdense plasma, coupling three key aspects of laser-plasma interactions at high intensities: relativistic transparency, direct laser acceleration, and synchrotron photon emission. The quasistatic magnetic field enhances the photon emission process, which has a profound impact on electron dynamics via radiation reaction and yields tens of TW of directed MeV photons for a PW-class laser.