The controlled coupling of a laser to plasma has the potential to address grand scientific challenges1,2,3,4,5,6, but many applications have limited flexibility and poor control over the laser focal volume. Here, we present an advanced focusing scheme called a ‘flying focus’, where a chromatic focusing system combined with chirped laser pulses enables a small-diameter laser focus to propagate nearly 100 times its Rayleigh length. Furthermore, the speed at which the focus moves (and hence the peak intensity) is decoupled from the group velocity of the laser. It can co- or counter-propagate along the laser axis at any velocity. Experiments validating the concept measured subluminal (−0.09c) to superluminal (39c) focal-spot velocities, generating a nearly constant peak intensity over 4.5 mm. Among possible applications, the flying focus could be applied to a photon accelerator7 to mitigate dephasing, facilitating the production of tunable XUV sources.
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The work published here was supported by the US Department of Energy Office of Fusion Energy Sciences under contract no. DE-SC0016253, the Department of Energy under cooperative agreement no. DE-NA0001944, the University of Rochester, and the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority. The support of the Department of Energy does not constitute an endorsement of the views expressed in this article.
Flying focus data, flying focus spot size, photon accelerator including detailed captions for each Supplementary Video.
Measurement of the flying focus for a T = 65 ps positively chirped pulse.
Measurement of the flying focus for a T = 55 ps positively chirped pulse.
Calculation of the flying focus for T = 29.8 ps negatively chirped pulse.
Calculation of the flying focus for a T = 14.9 ps negatively chirped pulse.
Calculation of the flying focus for a T = 11.9 ps negatively chirped pulse.
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Nature Communications (2019)