Highest powered LASER in the world – in Texas, naturally

Longhorns must be proud. This is really cool science.

The University of Texas is hosting an open house for the Petawatt Laser. The Petawatt Laser is the most powerful laser in the world, creating “power output of more than 2,000 times the output of all power plants in the United States. (A petawatt is one quadrillion watts.)” The open house is August 28. (No, I didn’t get an invitation; Meg Gardiner’s husband got one.)

The laser is brighter than sunlight on the surface of the sun, but it only lasts for an instant, a 10th of a trillionth of a second (0.0000000000001 second).

Not me teach - I didnt shine that laser on your whiteboard.  (Seriously - Dr. Todd Whitmire, University of Texas, operator of the Petawatt Laser)

'Not me teach - I didn't shine that laser on your whiteboard.' (Seriously - Dr. Todd Ditmire, University of Texas, operator of the Petawatt Laser)

The laser reached greater than one petawatt of output in a test run March 31, 2008, at the University of Texas’s Texas Center for High Intensity Laser Science. The instrument will be used to create and study in extreme conditions, “including gases at temperatures greater than those in the sun and solids at pressures of many billions of atmospheres.”

This will allow them to explore many astronomical phenomena in miniature. They will create mini-supernovas, tabletop stars and very high-density plasmas that mimic exotic stellar objects known as brown dwarfs.

“We can learn about these large astronomical objects from tiny reactions in the lab because of the similarity of the mathematical equations that describe the events,” said Ditmire, director of the center.

Such a powerful laser will also allow them to study advanced ideas for creating energy by controlled fusion.

The Texas Petawatt was built with funding provided by the National Nuclear Security Administration, an agency within the U. S. Department of Energy.

Millard Fillmore’s Bathtub could use a petawatt laser, to keep the water in the tub warm, don’t you think?

Tip of the old scrub brush to Lying for a Living.

Resources (just for the sake of listing “ultrafast science”):

Bonus: Flag etiquette violation, below the fold.

University of Texas, Petawatt Laswer High Bay -- showing U.S. and Texas flags displayed backwards.  Perhaps they can turn the flags around before the open house . . .

University of Texas, Petawatt Laser High Bay -- showing U.S. and Texas flags displayed backwards. Perhaps they can turn the flags around before the open house . . .

Update! Dr. Ditmire writes that actually the flags fly correctly, they’re viewed from the other side — but, he notes, the flags are then in the incorrect positions with relation to each other. He said the problem will be fixed by the open house.

Two points to the Petawatt Laser team for knowing their flag etiquette; two more when they get it fixed!

4 Responses to Highest powered LASER in the world – in Texas, naturally

  1. […] LASERS are cool” Scientists at the University of Texas at Austin showed off their petawatt LASER last week (alas, couldn’t make the open house […]


  2. Ed Darrell says:

    John, check the press release (first link in the post). I do not know for certain that an invitation is required, but you may want to check — and there are numbers on the press release that will work for asking such questions (interestingly, the release doesn’t list the public relations people first — you can get to real experts!).


  3. John Kingman says:

    Is there any more specific information on the time of day and location of the open house? Presumably, an invitation is not required.


  4. ETiTho says:

    This laser is a great chance for many scientists. I really hope, that they manage to produce a controled fusion that produces more energy than it needs to be kept working, because this could be one of the most important energy sources of the world. But I think that the stellarators or tokamaks will be more successful.
    Nevertheless, I guess that lots of scientists all over the world would do a lot to get their hands on this laser.
    Let’s see what the future will bring us.



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