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Birth of Apollon, the most powerful laser worldwide

At the end of 2016, Apollon will become the first laser worldwide to reach the power of 5 petawatts (PW). This installation, carried by the Laboratory for the Use of Intense Lasers at l'X, in partnership with CNRS and CEA, is one of the key scientific projects of École Polytechnique.

On 29 September 2015, the Apollon laser facility was inaugurated in the presence of Thierry Mandon, Secretary of State for Higher Education and Research, Isabelle This Saint-Jean, Vice President in charge of Higher Education and Research at the Paris Region Council, Patrick Imbert, Vice-President of the County Council of Essonne, Jacques Biot, President of École Polytechnique, Alain Fuchs, President of CNRS and Yves Bréchet, High Commissioner to the CEA atomic energy.

At the end of 2016, Apollon will become the first laser worldwide to reach the power of 5 petawatts (PW)0, which is several times the power of current lasers. This exceptional laser project was initiated by Gérard Mourou, Professor at École Polytechnique. The project is now coordinated by François Amiranoff and Patrick Audebert, current and former Directors of  the Laboratoire d’Utilisation des Lasers Intenses (Laboratory for the Use of Intense Lasers) at École Polytechnique. Ultimately, Apollon is expected to reach a power1 of 10 petawatts, a world record. Thanks to its extreme light intensity, it will produce beams of particles and radiation to unprecedented settings, thus pushing further the boundaries of fundamental research.


Among the twelve laboratories of Université Paris Saclay involved in the project, four École Polytechnique laboratories² conduct their research on very high intensity physics: generating sources of protons or electrons accelerated to speeds close to those of the light, study the radiation-matter interaction to extreme intensities or reproduce violent astrophysical mechanisms in the laboratory (such as supernovae, pulsars or GRBs), probe matter with ultimate temporal resolution, or explore the physical properties of vacuum. On the long term, this research could lead to societal applications in medicine (imaging, cancer treatment) or in the treatment of nuclear waste.

To achieve these scientific goals, Apollon will reach a record power of 10 petawatts, combining relatively high energy (150 Joules) and an extremely short pulse duration (15 femtoseconds³).

Apollon, which is planned to open to national and international scientific community in 2018, is part of the Interdisciplinary Center for extreme light (Centre interdisciplinaire lumière extrême or Cilex). It will be a tool of choice to explore new areas, some largely theoretical until now, from relativistic plasma physics to vacuum physics, including new technologies for accelerating particles and matter analysis.

°. 1 PW is equivalent to 1 million of billions of watts.
¹. Power = energy / time length
². Laboratoire pour l’Utilisation des Lasers Intenses, Laboratoire d’Optique Appliquée, Laboratoire Leprince-Ringuet and Centre de Physique Théorique.
³. A femtosecond (fs) is equivalent to 10-15 second.

Apollon in figures:
>Theoretical power: 10 petawatts (5 PW funded).
>Final Energy: 150 J.
>Pulse duration: 15 fs.
>Frequency of laser shots: 1 shot per minute and 300 shots per day.
>Beam intensity: > 1,022 W / cm2
>Electric field: 3.1014 V / m
>Magnetic field: ≈ 106 T.
>Electron energy in the laser field: ≈ 35 MeV.
>Pressure from radiation: ≈ 3.1017 Pa, ie ≈ 3.1012times atmospheric pressure.
>Facility area: 4,000 m² (750 m² for the laser and two experimental radioprotected halls of 250 et 400 m²).
>Budget: 50 millions euros (total current costs, including construction and personnel costs).