22 June 2016 10:28

Mathematical Physicists at Lancaster are involved in a £4.5m project to investigate extreme physical phenomena in laboratories so tiny that their diameters are equivalent to one tenth of the width of a human hair.

These “laboratories” are the microscopic bubbles that trail a high-power laser pulse as it scythes through a plasma.

Using plasma bubbles as laboratories for exploring fundamental physics is a new concept, and the project could ultimately lead to improvements in medical imaging and industrial processes.

The work being undertaken at Lancaster is part of the EPSRC-funded “Lab in a bubble” project led by Strathclyde University. The Lancaster effort is led by Dr Jonathan Gratus, Dr David Burton and Prof Robin Tucker, and their main role is to address fundamental questions concerning the behaviour of matter in extreme conditions.

Dr Burton said: “It is very exciting to be part of a project that is so wide-reaching in its implications. The range of potential applications of the work, allied with the opportunity for fundamental research, is staggering. From a broader perspective, laser-plasma physics is a growing area at Lancaster and we are pleased to welcome Prof Alec Thomas and Dr Louise Willingale to our Physics Department.”

Dr Gratus noted that “The intense fields generated in a plasma bubble give a way of testing electrodynamics in an extreme environment, where existing models may break down. I look forward to investigating alternative models”.

Professor Tucker said: “This funding offers us further opportunities to develop and test new ideas in classical and quantum electrodynamics in the context of high-intensity laser-plasma interactions”.

The other UK universities involved in “Lab in a bubble” are St Andrews and Glasgow, and the project is supported by the Cockcroft Institute of Accelerator Science and Technology as well as numerous international partners including the Extreme Light Infrastructure (ELI).