Science and Technology

Nature Physics highlights article authored by Técnico researchers

The research work revolutionizes a fundamental concept of physics and proposes a new way to generate the most advanced lasers in the world in a more accessible way.

Técnico scientists developed a work that revolutionizes a fundamental concept of physics, opening the door to new discoveries, new scientific studies and many practical applications. The research work entitled “Generalised superradiance: producing broadband, coherent radiation with transversely modulated, arbitrarily diluted beams” is made public in the prestigious Nature Physics magazine this Tuesday, September 15. The article is the result of work carried out by professors Jorge Vieira and Tito Mendonça, GOLP/IST researchers, Miguel Pardal, PhD student at Técnico, and Ricardo Fonseca, ISCTE professor.

“The result that we report in the article ‘revolutionizes’ a fundamental concept of physics, which has very wide scientific and technological applications, from atomic physics to quantum and astrophysical mechanics”, says Jorge Vieira, Técnico professor and first author of this article.

Stressing that plasma accelerators – very compact acceleration devices – are strong candidates for substantially reducing the size (and cost) of free electron lasers. According to the GOLP researcher says that “the generation of coherent x-rays in plasma accelerators is, at the same time, a great scientific challenge ”. “The biggest constraint for demonstrating this concept is, precisely, the difficulty in compressing the accelerated beams”, he adds. The generalized superradiance allows to strongly relieve this constraint, thus opening the way for free electron lasers based on plasma.

This demonstration of generalized superradiance may be an important first step towards the establishment of a new type of lasers with enormous potential for our society, science and technology. “This breakthrough would allow to bring the research carried out in large laboratories to hundreds or thousands of universities, and to hospitals, for treatments and medical imaging”, says professor Jorge Vieira.

There is still much that we don’t understand about the nature of generalized superradiance. Therefore, one of the scientific goals of this working group is to continue doing research on this topic, and its application to the context of plasma acceleration. “Only then we can answer the question whether we can ever build ultra-compact free electron lasers based on plasma, on the basis of what we suggest”, stresses professor Jorge Vieira.

The initial intuition that guided the working group “was unrealistically optimistic”, recalls professor Jorge Vieira. “This became clear as soon as we completed the first version of the calculations,” he adds. These calculations would also end up confirming that the researchers’ intuition was “qualitatively correct and that the result continued to be very promising”, highlights the researcher.

These results and their impact are the very best value of this work. “It is very important that a highly reputable and highly selective magazine like Nature Physics has published our article” says the Técnico professor. “The work developed by GOLP is internationally renowned.

Regarding the future, professor Jorge Vieira shares “one referee drew attention to a potentially simpler way to implement the concept experimentally, than the one we explored in the article. We’ve made a lot of progress over the last few months and I think that we will be able to define a strategy for the experimental demonstration very soon”, adds the Técnico professor. “The experiment cannot be done in Portugal, so a collaboration with scientists from other laboratories will be crucial”, he adds.