New Laser's "First Light" Shatters Record

Researchers at the U.S. Department of Energy's Thomas Jefferson National Accelerator Facility have delivered first light from their Free Electron Laser (FEL). Only 2 years after ground was broken for the FEL, infrared light of more than 150 watts (150,000 times more powerful than that of a supermarket scanner or CD player) was delivered today — fifteen times the power of existing free-electron lasers.

The Free Electron Laser project was funded by the Department of Energy, the Commonwealth of Virginia, and the Department of the Navy, and supported by industries, universities and the City of Newport News. The project would not have been possible without the support of the Virginia Congressional delegation, particularly Senator Warner, Senator Robb, Congressman Bateman, and Congressman Scott and Sisisky.

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. Jefferson Lab's superconducting electron-accelerating technology offers two commanding cost advantages for FELs: the laser can stay on 100% of the time instead of only 1% or 2%, and 99% of the energy that is not converted to useful light in a single pass can be recycled. The FEL development program also leverages Jefferson Lab's staff specialists in this technology as well as a built-in infrastructure of related specialized equipment.

The FEL provides not only a unique tool for basic research in materials science and atomic and molecular physics, but because of its efficiency, offers the potential to produce light at a cost useful for industrial processing. Initial users include DuPont (polymer processing) and Armco/Northrop-Grumman/Virginia Power (metals processing). In addition, Old Dominion University, the college of William and Mary, Christopher Newport University, and Norfolk State University are partnering with industries in the recently dedicated Applied Research Center built by the City of Newport News adjacent to the Jefferson Lab campus to take advantage of the capabilities of the FEL. User labs at the FEL facility have been equipped via substantial donations by universities and industries for use with the first experiments scheduled for this summer.