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Experimental observation of relativistic nonlinear Thomson scattering

Nature volume 396, pages 653655 (17 December 1998) | Download Citation

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Abstract

Classical Thomson scattering1 — the scattering of low-intensity light by electrons — is a linear process, in that it does not change the frequency of the radiation; moreover, the magnetic-field component of light is not involved. But if the light intensity is extremely high (1018 W cm−2), the electrons oscillate during the scattering process with velocities approaching the speed of light. In this relativistic regime, the effect of the magnetic and electric fields on the electron motion should become comparable, and the effective electron mass will increase. Consequently, electrons in such high fields are predicted to quiver nonlinearly, moving in figure-of-eight patterns rather than in straight lines. Scattered photons should therefore be radiated at harmonics of the frequency of the incident light2,3,4,5,6,7,8, with each harmonic having its own unique angular distribution4,5,6. Ultrahigh-peak-power lasers9 offer a means of creating the huge photon densities required to study relativistic, or ‘nonlinear’ (ref. 6), Thomson scattering. Here we use such an approach to obtain direct experimental confirmation of the theoretical predictions of relativistic Thomson scattering. In the future, it may be possible to achieve coherent10,11 generation of the harmonics, a process that could be potentially utilized for ‘table-top’ X-ray sources.

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Acknowledgements

We thank G. Mourou, R. Wagner and X.-F. Wang for discussions. The work of S.C. and A.M. was supported by US NSF and that of D.U. by the Office of Energy Research, US DOE.

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Affiliations

  1. Center for Ultrafast Optical Science, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, Michigan 48109, USA

    • Szu-yuan Chen
    • , Anatoly Maksimchuk
    •  & Donald Umstadter

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Correspondence to Donald Umstadter.

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https://doi.org/10.1038/25303

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