The Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC) Central Laser Facility (CLF) has secured a remarkable £85 million investment from UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) for a significant upgrade initiative.
Located at the STFC Rutherford Appleton Laboratory in South Oxfordshire, CLF specializes in using lasers to create plasma, the fourth state of matter. This upgrade promises to unlock new frontiers in scientific understanding and applications, ranging from astrophysics to clean energy.
At the heart of this transformative endeavor lies the Vulcan 20-20 laser, poised to redefine the boundaries of laser technology. Currently, the most formidable laser at CLF is the Vulcan laser, primarily focusing on plasma physics. The forthcoming Vulcan 20-20 laser will be an astonishing 100 times brighter than its predecessor, shining as brilliantly as a million, billion, billion times the Sahara Desert’s brightest sunlight. This incredible leap in power, generating a main laser beam with an energy output of 20 Petawatts (PW) alongside eight high-energy beams producing up to 20 Kilojoules (KJ), positions it as the world’s preeminent laser.
Competition in laser research has surged in recent years, underscoring the imperative for a cutting-edge UK laser facility. The Vulcan 20-20 upgrade program, spanning six years, will not only drive scientific progress but also create a spectrum of employment opportunities, from seasoned scientists to skilled designers, engineers, and technicians.
The potential of the Vulcan 20-20 laser is vast, promising insights into astrophysical phenomena like supernovae and solar flares and exploring laser fusion as a sustainable energy source. Planned experiments include the creation of matter-antimatter pairs using strong electromagnetic fields, a rarity on Earth, and the investigation of a novel particle acceleration method for potential ion radiotherapy treatments in cancer therapy.
Professor Mark Thomson, Executive Chair of STFC and UKRI Champion for Infrastructure emphasized the pivotal role of high-power laser technology in advancing scientific understanding and renewable energy research. He stated, “The Vulcan 20-20 program will keep the Central Laser Facility at the cutting edge of the highest-power laser science and enable entirely new experiments in crucial areas such as renewable energy research.”
Professor John Collier, Director of CLF, recognized Vulcan’s longstanding contribution to plasma physics research and its role in educating countless PhD students. The upgrade positions Vulcan to serve a new generation of scientists, cementing the UK’s leadership.
George Freeman, Science Minister, highlighted the opportunities unlocked by this substantial investment. He noted that re-establishing the UK as the home of the world’s most powerful laser opens doors to groundbreaking astronomy and physics discoveries, progress in clean energy sources, and the creation of highly skilled jobs in science and engineering, bolstering the UK’s scientific sector and economy.