High Energy Density Physics and Inertial Fusion Energy

Group Leaders:

We are leading research in the fields of inertial fusion energy, warm dense matter and high-intensity laser plasma interaction physics.

High energy density refers to energy densities exceeding 1011 Joules per cubic meter (J/m3), or equivalent, pressures exceeding 1 megabar (Mbar). High energy density experiments span a wide range of areas of physics including plasma physics, laser and particle beam physics, material science, intense radiation-matter interaction, and astrophysics. These exotic states of matter are created when a high power laser irradiates a solid or a gas target, forming a plasma. The directed energy from the laser is converted into thermal energy as well as charged particles and x-rays. The transition between the initial solid to the final plasma state is also of interest, as it unveils the loss and formation of long-range order with associated changes in the atomic structure of dense matter. This transition region is referred to as warm dense matter. Such plasmas are often of interest from the point of view of astrophysics, as many of the phenomena that occur are similar to those found in specific astrophysical context, for example, supernovae explosions, white dwarfs and interior of stars and planets.

In particular, our research work is focussed on the following areas:

  • Investigation of the equation of state of ultra dense matter as the one occurring in the core of giant planets (such as Jupiter and many exoplanets). The experimental work involves using high power laser facilities to compress the matter to densities above solid and then applying x-ray techniques to probe its microscopic state. Interested students can also focus their work onto theoretical topics involving strongly coupled and partially degenerate plasmas - which are particularly relevant for describing white dwarf structure.
  • The understanding of the generation and amplification of magnetic fields in the Universe. We are particularly interested at the role of turbulence (and dynamo) in producing the present day values of magnetic fields in cluster of galaxies. Experiments on large laser facilities are planned in order to simulate in the laboratory intra-cluster turbulence and measure the resultant magnetic field generation and amplification by dynamo.
  • Quantum gravity with high power lasers. The idea is to use high intensity lasers to drive electrons to very high accelerations and then observe effects connected to the Unhruh-Hawking radiation. The ideal candidate is expected to work in defining the required experimental parameters and the proposal for a future experiment.
  • Fusion energy with lasers, with particular interests in the fast ignitor approach to inertial confinement fusion. Electron and thermal transport in high-intensity laser plasma-experiments.

Our group has access to several laser facilities (including the National Ignition Facility, the largest laser system in the world). Students will also have access to a laser laboratory on campus (currently hosting the largest laser system in the department), where initial experiments can be fielded.