Femtosecond imaging of ultra-relativistic plasma phenomena (plasma strand project)

Supervisors: Christopher Ridgers & Andrew Higginbotham (University of York)

Modern high power lasers enable the focussing of light to extremely high intensities – up to 26 orders of magnitude higher than the solar constant (approximately the intensity of sunlight at the Earth).  This enables the creation of matter under extreme conditions.  For example high power lasers can create a plasma dense enough for thermonuclear ignition to occur and thus have been proposed as a driver for the inertial confinement fusion (ICF) scheme for energy production.  Yet the material properties of solids and plasmas as they are compressed by lasers (to achieve ignition) are poorly constrained.  At the highest intensities achievable on the near term the plasmas behaviour is determined by novel ultra-relativistic effects such as relativistic transparency. These lasers will accelerate thermal electrons to Lorentz factors > 100 for the first time such that their resulting mass increase will render even solid targets transparent to the laser. The processes by which transparency occurs are poorly understood, simulations suggest complex nonlinear instabilities but these are almost impossible to probe using current time-integrated measurements.

X-ray Free Electron Lasers (XFELs) are systems with the required energy (multi keV) and short pulse duration (~10fs) to probe the aforementioned material transitions and relativistic transparency experimentally. In the project we will use novel targets we propose making the first time resolved measurements of relativistic transparency. We will also consider the use of this novel platform for measuring material properties of relevance to ICF.

The student will develop the skills to work on large international facilities such as the European XFEL as well as the ability to run large-scale simulation codes.  This will provide the student with an opportunity to develop both their technical coding skills and their ability to trouble-shoot large complex experiments. Both are highly desired in the research community.

We plan to conduct experiments on XFEL facilities in Germany and the US.

This project is offered by University of York. For further information please contact: Christopher Ridgers (christopher.ridgers@york.ac.uk).

This project may be compatible with part time study, please contact the project supervisors if you are interested in exploring this.