Laser technology inspires new accelerator concepts

A new EU-funded research network, LA³NET, is bringing together universities, research centres and industry partners worldwide to explore the use of laser technology in particle beam generation, acceleration and diagnostics. As one of the network partners, CERN will be hosting three early stage researchers in the BE and EN Departments.


One of the laser systems now in use in the ISOLDE experiment.

If you take a closer look at recent experimental developments, you’ll notice a new topic trending: laser technology. It’s being used to study the characteristics of particles, as incorporated into the new ALPHA-2 set-up; to conduct diagnostics of particle beams, as used in a laser wire scanner at Petra III; to “breed” unusual ion beams, as carried out by ISOLDE’s Resonance Ionization Laser Ion Source (RILIS); and even to accelerate particles to high energies, as explored at Berkeley’s BELLA facility. These projects notwithstanding, the application of lasers to accelerator technology is still a field that requires significant R&D – something the LA³NET network can provide.

LA³NET will bring together more than 20 partner institutes to jointly train 17 early stage researchers in the field of laser applications. Undertaking cutting-edge research in centres across Europe, the researchers will be driving the development of laser techniques into previously unexplored research areas. At CERN, LA³NET researchers will be working on technology that could have a direct impact on the ISOLDE, CLIC and LINAC4 set-ups. Their research could help these CERN projects to reach unprecedented beam qualities and measure characteristics of high-intensity particle beams that cannot be determined by any other means.

“We’ll be using lasers to generate, shape, characterise and even accelerate particle beams,” says Carsten P. Welsch, a former CERN Fellow who is now coordinating LA³NET from his University of Liverpool home-base. “New advanced accelerator concepts explore the use of lasers to bring particle beams to very high energies. While not a novel concept in itself, previous work using the technique has found significant issues, with a resulting energy spread of 10-50% in the accelerated beam. Using new developments in laser technology, some of our researchers will try to create better quality high-energy beams with this laser acceleration technique.”

These LA³NET research projects are centred not just in academia and research organisations, but also in industry. “It’s this diversity that makes the LA³NET so exceptional,” says Carsten. “All of our participating researchers will spend significant time with an industry partner, giving them hands-on experience in both sides of the research field. Furthermore, we’ve kept the network open to new collaboration opportunities: any individual or organisation that wants to get involved in our activities can still ‘join’ as an adjunct partner.”

The network will also be hosting a series of international schools looking at specific research areas in the field of laser applications, which will be open to external participants. The first of these schools will be held at GANIL (France) in October 2012.

For further information, visit the LA3NET network website.

by Katarina Anthony