News FocusThe Laser at 50

Taking Laser Science To the Extreme

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Science  14 May 2010:
Vol. 328, Issue 5980, pp. 806-807
DOI: 10.1126/science.328.5980.806

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Over the next few years, a group of European countries wants to build a device that can produce 200-petawatt (2 × 1017 watts) pulses, 200 times the power of today's best lasers. The ultrahigh power and intensity of pulses of the Extreme Light Infrastructure's laser will produce electric fields so strong that they may alter and sense the texture of the vacuum itself, opening up new research areas for astrophysicists and particle physicists. This special package of news stories commemorating the 50th anniversary of the laser describes a small sample of current laser research, including what comes after the $3.5 billion U.S. National Ignition Facility, optical devices tiny enough to work hand in hand with electronic circuits, and using the forces exerted by light to set tiny objects aquiver.