Hot, dense matter creation via ultra-intense laser interaction with novel, structured targets (plasma strand project)

Supervisor: Kate Lancaster (University of York).

The ability to heat high-density mid- to high-Z materials to temperatures of 100’s eV to a few KeV is critical for studies of warm/ hot dense matter. Studying how radiation is transported in such matter and the equations of state are important for understanding stellar interiors, Inertial Confinement Fusion, nuclear astrophysics occurring in the most extreme objects in our Universe, and the microphysics of warm/hot dense matter (for example our ability to accurately calculate the resistivity and thermal conductivity under such conditions is limited). With ultra-intense laser interactions with matter we are able to produce some of the most extreme conditions on earth. When these lasers are focused on to solid material, the electric fields associated with the laser are so strong that the atoms in the material become readily ionised to create plasma. These intense lasers only penetrate a short distance into material they are striking, limiting the amount of energy that can be readily absorbed. Mega-Amp currents, which can be highly divergent, are driven into the target and these electrons transport energy deeper into the material.

There are multiple approaches to increasing the amount of energy coupled into the material in these interactions to produce hot, dense matter.  One approach is to use novel, nanostructured targets to increase the absorption of laser energy leading to much hotter, denser material. Another approach is to use resistively structured targets which generate magnetic fields that guide the currents of fast electrons, reducing their divergence. This project will be to experimentally investigate these routes to heat material to KeV temperatures. The project will use state of the art experimental techniques, novel target technologies, and simulation tools to understand the physics of heating matter via these approaches. The project will be carried out using the world-leading high-power lasers here in the UK such as VULCAN and Gemini. We also anticipate international experiments (eg Italy, Germany). A large amount of teamwork and cooperation is required but the student will also have substantial freedom to develop their own ideas as they arise.

The potential impact of this work is broad and exciting. This work will be extremely useful for understanding the underlying physics of Inertial Confinement Fusion, including the physics of high-gain approaches such as fast-ignition. The creation of bright x-ray sources from these techniques will be useful for non-destructive testing of materials for industrial applications.

The project will be mainly based at York but experiments will be carried out using the world-leading high-power lasers here in the UK such as VULCAN and Gemini. We also anticipate international experiments (eg Italy, Germany). There will also be the opportunity to travel abroad for conferences.

This project is offered by University of York. For further information please contact: Kate Lancaster (Kate.Lancaster@york.ac.uk).

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