Attosecond lighthouses from plasma mirrors


The nonlinear interaction of an intense femtosecond laser pulse with matter can lead to the emission of a train of sub-laser-cycle—attosecond—bursts of short-wavelength radiation1,2. Much effort has been devoted to producing isolated attosecond pulses, as these are better suited to real-time imaging of fundamental electronic processes3,4,5,6. Successful methods developed so far rely on confining the nonlinear interaction to a single sub-cycle event7,8,9. Here, we demonstrate for the first time a simpler and more universal approach to this problem10, applied to nonlinear laser–plasma interactions. By rotating the instantaneous wavefront direction of an intense few-cycle laser field11,12 as it interacts with a solid-density plasma, we separate the nonlinearly generated attosecond pulse train into multiple beams of isolated attosecond pulses propagating in different and controlled directions away from the plasma surface. This unique method produces a manifold of isolated attosecond pulses, ideally synchronized for initiating and probing ultrafast electron motion in matter.

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Figure 1: Attosecond lighthouse principle.
Figure 2: Schematic of the experiment.
Figure 3: Experimental observation of the attosecond lighthouse effect.
Figure 4: Time-to-space mapping during the attosecond lighthouse effect.


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R.L.M. acknowledges financial support from the Agence Nationale pour la Recherche through programme ANR-09-JC-JC-0063 (UBICUIL), while A.B. acknowledges support from the RTRA – Triangle de la Physique and F.Q. from the European Research Council (ERC grant no. 240013). Simulation work was performed using high-performance computing (HPC) resources from GENCI–CCRT/CINES (grant no. 2012056057).

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The experimental set-up was designed by A.B., J.W., F.Q. and R.L.M. The laser beam was delivered by A.R. and the experiments were performed by J.W., S.M. and A.B. The theoretical work was carried out by H.V., A.M. and F.Q.

Corresponding authors

Correspondence to Rodrigo Lopez-Martens or Fabien Quéré.

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The authors declare no competing financial interests.

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Wheeler, J., Borot, A., Monchocé, S. et al. Attosecond lighthouses from plasma mirrors. Nature Photon 6, 829–833 (2012).

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