The United States is upgrading its laser capabilities with ZEUS, a new three-petawatt system to be built at the University of Michigan. Three petawatts is equal to three quadrillion watts, or a 3 followed by 15 zeros.
Funded with $16 million from the National Science Foundation, the facility will enable both basic and applied research. It will test a leading theory on how the universe operates at a subatomic level, and it could lead to advancements in medicine, materials science and national security.
“This laser will have the highest peak power in the United States and will be among the world’s most powerful laser systems for the next decade,” said Karl Krushelnick, director of the Gérard Mourou Center for Ultrafast Optical Science at U-M, where the laser will be built.
The U.S. built the world’s first petawatt laser in 1996, but hasn’t kept pace with more ambitious systems under construction elsewhere in the world. This includes two 10-petawatt in Europe and a 5.3-petawatt laser in China, which also has plans to build a 100-petawatt laser.
Getting back into the game with a 3-petawatt laser for $16 million is a bargain. The cost savings comes in part from the fact that some high-power laser components are now produced commercially, so they don’t need to be custom built. In addition, ZEUS will be an upgrade of an existing 0.5-petawatt laser, known for roughly two decades as HERCULES.
ZEUS will be what is known as a “user facility,” providing access to extreme laser intensities to scientists and engineers across the country.
Source: “Most powerful laser in the US to be build in U-M”, Nicole Casal Moore, University of Michigan