Tunable Laser Reaches Record Power Level

Researchers at the U.S. Department of Energy's Thomas Jefferson National Accelerator Facility (Jefferson Lab) have produced record setting levels of laser power from their Free Electron Laser (FEL).

Last summer when the FEL was first turned on, it produced 155 watts of infrared light. On July 15, the FEL exceeded its design goal of 1,000 watts (a million times more powerful than the laser in a supermarket scanner or CD player) by producing 1,720 watts of infrared light. At kilowatt levels, the Jefferson Lab FEL offers researchers a unique tool for science and industrial processing with light.

Based on the technology developed for Jefferson Lab's basic research mission, the project was spearheaded by a unique industry/university partnership that helped identify uses for the laser and guided its design. "The Jefferson Lab FEL, with its most recent scientific achievement, is an excellent success story for partnerships between the government and the private sector," said Energy Secretary Bill Richardson. "The laser was built leveraging public and private funds. We will all benefit from the applications of the research done at Jefferson Lab".

The FEL project was funded by the Department of the Navy, the Department of Energy, and the Commonwealth of Virginia, and was supported by industries, universities and the City of Newport News.

In addition to being used in studies of atomic and molecular physics, the FEL may have a wide range of applications in manufacturing, including processing of plastics, more durable synthetic fibers, corrosion resistant metals and advanced materials and components for electronics and microtechnologies.

To enable experimenters to probe deep inside the atom's nucleus with electrons, Jefferson Lab pioneered superconducting technology for accelerating electrons to high energy in efficient, cost-effective accelerators. This technology offers two commanding cost advantages for FELs. The laser can stay on 100 percent of the time instead of only the 1 percent or 2 percent current FELs are capable of, and a major fraction of the energy that is not converted to useful light in a single pass can be recycled, thereby reducing operations costs.

Because of its efficiency, the Jefferson Lab FEL offers the potential to produce light at wavelengths and at a cost useful for industrial processing. Initial industrial users of the FEL include DuPont (polymer processing), Armco/Northrop-Grumman/Virginia Power (metals processing) and Aerospace/3M (microfabrication). These industrial experiments are investigating roughening plastics, creating hardened and corrosion-resistant metal surfaces, and machining miniature structures in ceramics.

The FEL also provides a unique tool for basic research in materials science, chemistry, and atomic and molecular physics. Universities from around the nation have recently begun basic research experiments using the FEL.

The Thomas Jefferson National Accelerator Facility is managed by a consortium of 46 universities in the southeast called the Southeastern Universities Research Association under a contract from the U.S. Department of Energy.

For Immediate Release
Contact:

  Linda B. Ware
Public Affairs Manager
(757) 269-7689
Fred Dylla
FEL Program Manager
(757) 269-7450