Thank you for visiting nature.com. You are using a browser version with limited support for CSS. To obtain the best experience, we recommend you use a more up to date browser (or turn off compatibility mode in Internet Explorer). In the meantime, to ensure continued support, we are displaying the site without styles and JavaScript.

# Principles and applications of compact laser–plasma accelerators

## Abstract

Rapid progress in the development of high-intensity laser systems has extended our ability to study light–matter interactions far into the relativistic domain, in which electrons are driven to velocities close to the speed of light. As well as being of fundamental interest in their own right, these interactions enable the generation of high-energy particle beams that are short, bright and have good spatial quality. Along with steady improvements in the size, cost and repetition rate of high-intensity lasers, the unique characteristics of laser-driven particle beams are expected to be useful for a wide range of contexts, including proton therapy for the treatment of cancers, materials characterization, radiation-driven chemistry, border security through the detection of explosives, narcotics and other dangerous substances, and of course high-energy particle physics. Here, we review progress that has been made towards realizing such possibilities and the principles that underlie them.

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution

## Relevant articles

• ### Superintense laser-driven photon activation analysis

Communications Physics Open Access 19 August 2021

• ### Design of a THz-driven compact relativistic electron source

Applied Physics B Open Access 22 February 2021

• ### Counting the electrons in a multiphoton ionization by elastic scattering of microwaves

Scientific Reports Open Access 13 February 2018

## Access options

\$32.00

All prices are NET prices.

## References

1. Tajima, T. & Dawson, J. M. Laser electron accelerator. Phys. Rev. Lett. 43, 267–270 (1979).

2. Blumenfeld, I. et al. Energy doubling of 42 GeV electrons in a metre-scale plasma wakefield accelerator. Nature 445, 741–744 (2007).

3. Blue, B. E. et al. Plasma Wakefield acceleration of an intense positron beam. Phys. Rev. Lett. 90, 214801 (2003).

4. Esarey, E. et al. Overview of plasma based accelerators concepts. IEEE Trans. Plasma Sci. 24, 252–288 (1996).

5. Joshi, C. The development of laser- and beam-driven plasma accelerators as an experimental field. Phys. Plasmas 14, 055501 (2007).

6. Mendonça, J. T. et al. Proton and neutron sources using terawatt lasers. Meas. Sci. Technol. 12, 1801–1812 (2001).

7. Borghesi, M. et al. Fast ion generation by high intensity laser irradiation of solid targets and applications. Fusion Sci. Technol. 49, 412–439 (2006).

8. Pukhov, A. & Meyer-ter-Vehn, J. Laser wake field acceleration: The highly non-linear broken-wave regime. Appl. Phys. B 74, 355–361 (2002).

9. Mangles, S. et al. Mono-energetic beams of relativistic electrons from intense laser plasma interactions. Nature 431, 535–538 (2004).

10. Geddes, C. G. R. et al. High-quality electron beams from a laser wakefield accelerator using plasma-channel guiding. Nature 431, 538–541 (2004).

11. Faure, J. et al. A laser–plasma accelerator producing monoenergetic electron beams. Nature 431, 541–544 (2004).

12. Leemans, W. P. et al. GeV electron beams from a centimetre scale accelerator. Nature Phys. 2, 696–699 (2006).

13. Esarey, E. et al. Electron injection into plasma wake fields by colliding laser pulses. Phys. Rev. Lett. 79, 2682–2685 (1997).

14. Faure, J. et al. Controlled injection and acceleration of electrons in plasma wakefields by colliding laser pulses. Nature 444, 737–740 (2006).

15. Lifschitz, A. F. et al. Electron acceleration by colliding laser beams in plasmas. Preprint at &lt;http://arxiv.org/abs/physics/0703020&gt; (2007).

16. Pukhov, A. & Gordienko, S. Bubble regime of wake field acceleration: Similarity theory and optimal scalings. Phil. Trans. R. Soc. A 364, 623–633 (2006).

17. Lu, W. et al. Generating multi-GeV electron bunches using single stage laser wakefield acceleration in a 3D nonlinear regime. PRSTAB 10, 061301 (2007).

18. Malka, V. et al. Design of a compact GeV laser plasma accelerator. Nucl. Instrum. Methods Phys. Res. A 561, 310–313 (2006).

19. Malka, V. et al. Staged concept of laser plasma acceleration toward multi-GeV electron beams. PRSTAB 9, 0913101 (2006).

20. Wilks, S. C. et al. Absorption of ultra intense laser pulses. Phys. Rev. Lett. 69, 1383–1386 (1992).

21. Krushelnick, K. et al. Multi MeV ion production from high intensity laser interactions with underdense plasmas. Phys. Rev. Lett. 83, 737–780 (1999).

22. Mora, P. Plasma expansion into a vacuum. Phys. Rev. Lett. 90, 185002 (2003).

23. Snavely, R. A. et al. Intense high energy proton beams from Petawatt-laser irradiation of solids. Phys. Rev. Lett. 85, 2945–2948 (2000).

24. Clark, E. L. et al. Energetic heavy ion and proton generation from ultraintense laser plasma interactions with solids. Phys. Rev. Lett. 85, 1654–1657 (2000).

25. Pukhov, A. Three dimensional simulations of ion acceleration from a foil irradiated by a short-pulse laser. Phys. Rev. Lett. 86, 3562–3565 (2001).

26. Silva, L. O. et al. Proton shock acceleration in laser plasma interactions. Phys. Rev. Lett. 92, 015002 (2004).

27. Fuchs, J. et al. Comparison of laser ion acceleration from the front and rear surfaces of thin foils. Phys. Rev. Lett. 94, 045004 (2005).

28. Fritzler, S. et al. Proton beams generated with high intensity lasers: Application to medical isotope production. Appl. Phys. Lett. 83, 3039–3042 (2003).

29. Hegelich, M. et al. MeV ion jets from short pulse laser interaction with thin foils. Phys. Rev. Lett. 89, 085002 (2002).

30. Cowan, T. E. et al. Ultra low emittance, multi MeV proton beams from a laser virtual cathode plasma accelerator. Phys. Rev. Lett. 92, 204801 (2004).

31. Neely, D. et al. Enhanced proton beams from ultrathin targets driven by high contrast laser pulses. Appl. Phys. Lett. 89, 021502 (2006).

32. Antici, P. et al. Energetic protons generated by ultrahigh contrast laser pulses interacting with ultrathin targets. Phys. Plasmas 14, 030701 (2007).

33. Ceccotti, T. et al. Proton acceleration with high-intensity, ultra-high-contrast laser pulses. Phys. Rev. Lett. 99, 185002 (2007).

34. Schwoerer, H. et al. Laser–plasma acceleration of quasi-monoenergetic protons with microstructured targets. Nature 439, 445–448 (2006).

35. Hegelich, B. M. et al. Laser acceleration of quasi-monoenergetic MeV ion beams. Nature 439, 441–444 (2006).

36. Toncian, T. et al. Ultrafast laser driven microlens to focus and energy select Mega-electron volt protons. Science 312, 5772–5775 (2006).

37. Kostyukov, I. et al. X-ray generation in an ion channel. Phys. Plasmas 10, 4818–4828 (2003).

38. Rousse, A. et al. Production of a keV X-ray beam from synchrotron radiation in relativistic laser–plasma interaction. Phys. Rev. Lett. 93, 135005 (2004).

39. Ta Phuoc, K. et al. Imaging electron trajectories in a laser wakefield cavity using betatron X-ray radiation. Phys. Rev. Lett. 97, 225002 (2006).

40. Rousse, A. et al. Scaling for betatron X-ray radiation. Eur. Phys. J. D 45, 391–398 (2007).

41. Schoenlein, R. W. et al. Femtosecond X-ray pulses at 0.4 Å generated by 90 Thomson scattering: A tool for probing the structural dynamics of material. Science 274, 236–238 (1996).

42. Schwoerer, H. et al. Thomson backscattered X-rays from laser accelerated electrons. Phys. Rev. Lett. 96, 014802 (2006).

43. Hartemann, F. V. et al. Compton scattering X-ray sources driven by laser wakefield acceleration. Phys. Rev. ST Accel Beams 10, 011301 (2007).

44. Schlenvoigt, H.-P. et al. A compact synchrotron radiation source driven by a laser–plasma wakefield accelerator. Nature Phys. 4, 130–133 (2008).

45. Gruener, F. et al. Design considerations for table top laser based VUV and X-ray free electron lasers. Appl. Phys. B 86, 431–435 (2007).

46. Rousse, A. et al. Femtosecond X-ray crystallography. Rev. Mod. Phys. 73, 17–31 (2001).

47. DesRosiers, C. et al. 150–250 MeV electron beams in radiation therapy. Phys. Med. Biol. 45, 1781–1805 (2000).

48. Yeboah, C. et al. Optimization of intensity modulated very high energy 50–250 MeV electron therapy. Phys. Med. Biol. 47, 1285–1301 (2002).

49. Yeboah, C. & Sandison, G. A. Optimized treatment planning for prostate cancer comparing IMPT, VHEET and 15 MV IMXT. Phys. Med. Biol. 47, 2247–2261 (2002).

50. Glinec, Y. et al. Radiotherapy with quasimonoenergetic electron beam from laser–plasma interaction. Med. Phys. 33, 155–162 (2006).

51. Dubrova, Y. E. et al. Transgenerational mutation by radiation. Nature 405, 37–40 (2002).

52. Von Sonntag, C. (ed.) Free-Radical-Induced DNA Damage and its Repair (Springer, Heidelberg, 2006).

53. Wroe, J. et al. Nanodosimetric cluster distributions of therapeutic proton beams. IEEE Trans. Nucl. Sci. 53, 532–538 (2006).

54. Malka, V. et al. Practicability of protontherapy using compact laser systems. Med. Phys. 31, 1587–1592 (2004).

55. Fourkal, E. et al. Intensity modulated radiation therapy using laser-accelerated protons: A Monte Carlo dosimetric study. Phys. Med. Biol. 48, 3977–4000 (2003).

56. Ledingham, K. W. D. et al. Applications for nuclear phenomena generated by ultra-intense lasers. Science 300, 1107–1110 (2003).

57. Lefebvre, E. et al. Numerical simulation of isotope production for positron emission tomography with laser-accelerated ions. J. Appl. Phys. 100, 113308 (2006).

58. Brozek-Pluska, B. et al. Direct observation of elementary radical events: Low and high-energy radiation femtochemistry in solutions. Radiat. Phys. Chem. 72, 149–157 (2005).

59. Gauduel, Y. et al. Femtosecond relativistic electron beam triggered early bioradical events. SPIE Femtosecond Laser Appl. Biol. 5463, 86–96 (2004).

60. Gauduel, Y. et al. Real-time probing of radical events with sulfide molecules. SPIE Genetically Eng. Opt. Probes Biomed. Appl. IV 6449, E1–E12 (2007).

62. Patel, P. K. et al. Isochoric heating of solid density matter with an ultrafast proton beam. Phys. Rev. Lett. 91, 125004 (2003).

63. Borghesi, M. et al. Electric field detection in laser plasma interaction experiments via imaging technique. Phys. Plasmas 9, 2214 (2002).

64. Romagnani, L. et al. Dynamics of electric fields driving the laser acceleration of multi MeV protons. Phys. Rev. Lett. 95, 195001 (2005).

65. Le Pape, S. et al. Novel diagnostic of low-Z shock compressed material. High Energ. Density Phys. 2, 1–6 (2006).

66. Glinec, Y. et al. High resolution γ-ray radiography produced by a laser–plasma driven electron source. Phys. Rev. Lett. 94, 025003 (2005).

67. Strickland, D. & Mourou, G. Compression of amplified chirped optical pulses. Opt. Commun. 56, 219–221 (1985).

68. Katsouleas, T. Electrons hang ten on laser wake. Nature 431, 515–516 (2004).

69. Gerstner, E. Extreme light. Nature 446, 16–18 (2007).

## Acknowledgements

The authors would like to acknowledge R. Ferrand, T. Fuchs, L. Silva, H. Videau and G. Mourou for fruitful discussions.

## Author information

Authors

### Corresponding author

Correspondence to Victor Malka.

## Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

Malka, V., Faure, J., Gauduel, Y. et al. Principles and applications of compact laser–plasma accelerators. Nature Phys 4, 447–453 (2008). https://doi.org/10.1038/nphys966

• Accepted:

• Issue Date:

• DOI: https://doi.org/10.1038/nphys966

• ### Direct observation of relativistic broken plasma waves

• Yang Wan
• Omri Seemann
• Victor Malka

Nature Physics (2022)

• ### Laser wakefield electron acceleration with PW lasers and future applications

• Hyung Taek Kim
• Vishwa Bandhu Pathak
• Bobbili Sanyasi Rao

Journal of the Korean Physical Society (2022)

• ### Superintense laser-driven photon activation analysis

• Francesco Mirani
• Daniele Calzolari
• Matteo Passoni

Communications Physics (2021)

• ### Design of a THz-driven compact relativistic electron source

• Sz. Turnár
• J. Hebling
• Z. Tibai

Applied Physics B (2021)

• ### Phase-locked laser-wakefield electron acceleration

• C. Caizergues
• S. Smartsev
• C. Thaury

Nature Photonics (2020)