Facts and Figures About Lab's Free-Electron Laser

Q: Why is 1 kilowatt of free-electron laser light, or 1,000 watts, so much more powerful than 10 100-watt light bulbs?

A: With an FEL, the wattage, or power, refers to average power. For flickering instants lasting about one-trillionth of a second, the wattage is in the millions. But when the laser is "off" in between pulses, long periods of zero wattage are averaged into the figure. The intense power during the on period does the real work when the laser is shined onto a material. To an observer, the laser appears to operate continuously because the light pulses come so quickly.

Q: How much does it cost to run the laser?

A: It costs about $1 to produce a kilowatt of free-electron laser light for a second. The upgraded FEL will lower this cost to about 10 cents per kilowatt-second, lab officials say, which is below the current cost of many existing industrial lasers.

Q: Will the laser ever be able to pay for itself through the revenues it collects?

A: The present FEL at Jefferson Lab is a one-of-a-kind R&D facility. Jefferson Lab scientists and users are working on the present device for both commercial and scientific applications. Lab officials say a second-generation FEL based on the upgraded design would generate sufficient cost-effective laser light to be a profitable commercial enterprise. That is one of the goals of the project.

Q: Will the FEL be a major source of new jobs in Newport News?

A: The FEL already is a source of jobs in Newport News for the scientists and users working on it in the FEL facility and in the Applied Research Center, an R&D facility for Jefferson Lab, start-up businesses and universities. Twenty-five scientists are working on the FEL and 100 users from across the country travel to use the FEL. In the future, after the first industrial-version FEL is built, lab officials say, the most likely location for the laser and a laser assembly operation is the Jefferson Center for Research and Technology. That is where companies using technology developed at ARC are expected to go. The center is next to the Jefferson Lab campus.

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