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High-quality electron beams from a laser wakefield accelerator using plasma-channel guiding

Abstract

Laser-driven accelerators, in which particles are accelerated by the electric field of a plasma wave (the wakefield) driven by an intense laser, have demonstrated accelerating electric fields of hundreds of GV m-1 (refs 1–3). These fields are thousands of times greater than those achievable in conventional radio-frequency accelerators, spurring interest in laser accelerators4,5 as compact next-generation sources of energetic electrons and radiation. To date, however, acceleration distances have been severely limited by the lack of a controllable method for extending the propagation distance of the focused laser pulse. The ensuing short acceleration distance results in low-energy beams with 100 per cent electron energy spread1,2,3, which limits potential applications. Here we demonstrate a laser accelerator that produces electron beams with an energy spread of a few per cent, low emittance and increased energy (more than 109 electrons above 80 MeV). Our technique involves the use of a preformed plasma density channel to guide a relativistically intense laser, resulting in a longer propagation distance. The results open the way for compact and tunable high-brightness sources of electrons and radiation.

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Figure 1: In the channel-guided laser wakefield accelerator, the plasma channel was formed in a supersonic hydrogen gas jet by two pulses fired 500 ps before the drive pulse.
Figure 2: Laser propagation with and without channel.
Figure 3: Single-shot electron beam spectrum and divergence of the channel-guided accelerator, showing a bunch containing 2 × 109 electrons in a narrow distribution at 86 ± 1.8 MeV and 3 mrad divergence FWHM with contrast >10:1 above background.
Figure 4: Particle in cell simulations, here displaying the phase space of the electrons, show an energy distribution similar to that in the experiments.

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Acknowledgements

This work was supported by the US Department of Energy and the National Science Foundation and used resources of the National Energy Research Scientific Computing Center at LBNL; C.G. was also supported by the Hertz Foundation. C.G. acknowledges his faculty advisor J. Wurtele. We appreciate contributions from G. Dugan, J. Faure, G. Fubiani, B. Nagler, K. Nakamura, N. Saleh, B. Shadwick, L. Archambault, M. Dickinson, S. Dimaggio, D. Syversrud, J. Wallig and N. Ybarrolaza.

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Correspondence to W. P. Leemans.

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Geddes, C., Toth, C., van Tilborg, J. et al. High-quality electron beams from a laser wakefield accelerator using plasma-channel guiding. Nature 431, 538–541 (2004). https://doi.org/10.1038/nature02900

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