This site uses cookies. By continuing to use this site you agree to our use of cookies. To find out more, see our Privacy and Cookies policy.
Skip to the content

Share this

Free weekly newswire

Sign up to receive all our latest news direct to your inbox.

Physics on film

100 Second Science Your scientific questions answered simply by specialists in less than 100 seconds.

Watch now

Bright Recruits

At all stages of your career – whether you're an undergraduate, graduate, researcher or industry professional – can help find the job for you.

Find your perfect job

Physics connect

Are you looking for a supplier? Physics Connect lists thousands of scientific companies, businesses, non-profit organizations, institutions and experts worldwide.

Start your search today


Celtic god of thunder gets an attosecond makeover

Gods of thunder: Gagik Nersisyan (left) and Matt Zepf at the TARANIS laser facility

Gods of thunder: Gagik Nersisyan (left) and Matt Zepf at the TARANIS laser facility.

By Hamish Johnston

I recently had the pleasure of visiting Matt Zepf, who directs the Centre for Plasma Physics at Queen’s University Belfast. Zepf and his colleague Gagik Nersisyan showed me around the TARANIS laser facility, which creates extremely bright flashes of light just like its namesake the Celtic god of thunder.

TARANIS is about to upgraded to TARANIS-X, which will deliver ultrashort pulses of extreme ultraviolet light (EUV) that are just a few attoseconds (10–18 s) in duration. Each attosecond pulse will deliver more than 10 µJ, which Zepf says will make TARANIS-X the most powerful laser of its kind by a comfortable margin.

These pulses will be extremely useful to scientists because chemical reactions tend to occur on attosecond timescales. A key feature of the facility is that it will be able to do “pump–probe” experiments in which the pump pulse (which initiates a change in the sample) and the probe pulse (which measures the result of the change) are both of attosecond duration. Previously this had not been possible for the pump pulse, which must deliver a relatively large amount of energy to the sample.

The new facility will also deliver femtosecond EUV pulses with energies in excess of 100 µJ, which Zepf says will make TARANIS-X competitive with the brightest free-electron laser facilities operating today.

The new equipment will be delivered in March and the team hopes to have TARANIS-X up and running by 2017. One of its first uses will be the study of the excited states of helium atoms. The attosecond pulses will then be used to investigate increasing complex atomic and molecular systems.

TARANIS can already deliver femtosecond laser pulses at powers of a few hundred terawatts and  is being used in a number of different fields, including the study of “warm dense matter”. This stuff is created when a target is blasted by an extremely intense laser pulse and this type of matter is of great interest to astronomers because it is believed to form the cores of gas-giant planets such as Jupiter and Saturn as well as many of the recently discovered exoplanets that orbit distant stars.

Much closer to home, TARANIS is also used to create pulses of high-energy protons that are similar in energy to those used in cancer therapy. Scientists can then observe how these protons deposit energy in target materials on very short timescales. This provides medical physicists with important information about how to use proton beams to destroy tumours while minimizing the damage to surrounding healthy tissues.

This entry was posted in General and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.
View all posts by this author  | View this author's profile

Comments are closed.


  • Comments should be relevant to the article and not be used to promote your own work, products or services.
  • Please keep your comments brief (we recommend a maximum of 250 words).
  • We reserve the right to remove excessively long, inappropriate or offensive entries.

Show/hide formatting guidelines

Tag Description Example Output
<a> Hyperlink <a href="">google</a> google
<abbr> Abbreviation <abbr title="World Health Organisation" >WHO</abbr> WHO
<acronym> Acronym <acronym title="as soon as possible">ASAP</acronym> ASAP
<b> Bold <b>Some text</b> Some text
<blockquote> Quoted from another source <blockquote cite="">IOP</blockquote>
<cite> Cite <cite>Diagram 1</cite> Diagram 1
<del> Deleted text From this line<del datetime="2012-12-17"> this text was deleted</del> From this line this text was deleted
<em> Emphasized text In this line<em> this text was emphasised</em> In this line this text was emphasised
<i> Italic <i>Some text</i> Some text
<q> Quotation WWF goal is to build a future <q cite="">
where people live in harmony with nature and animals</q>
WWF goal is to build a future
where people live in harmony with nature and animals
<strike> Strike text <strike>Some text</strike> Some text
<strong> Stronger emphasis of text <strong>Some text</strong> Some text