New Report Examines Highly Intense, Ultrafast Laser Technology

A second laser revolution of highly intense, ultrafast lasers that have far-reaching applications in manufacturing, medicine, and national security is underway.  While these powerful lasers originated in the U.S., research-funding agencies in Europe and Asia began in the last decade to invest heavily in new collaborations and facilities that will employ these high-intensity lasers for broad areas of science.  A new report from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine examines opportunities and recommends a path forward for possible U.S. investments in this area of science.

Highly intense pulsed petawatt-class lasers (1 petawatt is equal to 1 million billion watts) deliver nearly 100 times the total world’s energy consumption rate concentrated into a pulse that lasts less than one picosecond, or one-trillionth of a second.  To illustrate the timescale, a picosecond is to 1 second as 1 second is to more than 31,000 years.  Such laser sources create conditions that can accelerate and collide intense beams of elementary particles, drive nuclear reactions, heat matter to conditions found in stars, or even create matter out of the empty vacuum.  In manufacturing, high-intensity lasers can be used for precision cutting, mainly due to minimal heat transfer to the materials, resulting in negligible collateral damage.  They also show promise for both medical imaging and as the source of intense particle beams for cancer therapies.   

Advance copies of Opportunities in Intense Ultrafast Lasers: Reaching for the Brightest Light will be available to reporters only beginning at 2 p.m. EST on Tuesday, Dec. 5.  The report is embargoed and not for public release before 11 a.m. EST on Wednesday, Dec. 6.  To obtain a copy, reporters should contact the Academies’ Office of News and Public Information; tel. 202-334-2138 or email