If you could hold a giant magnifying glass in space and focus all the sunlight shining toward Earth onto one grain of sand, that concentrated ray would approach the intensity of a new laser beam made in a University of Michigan laboratory.
“That’s the instantaneous intensity we can produce,” said Karl Krushelnick, a physics and engineering professor. “I don’t know of another place in the universe that would have this intensity of light. We believe this is a record.”
The pulsed laser beam lasts just 30 femtoseconds. A femtosecond is a millionth of a billionth of a second.
Such intense beams could help scientists develop better proton and electron beams for radiation treatment of cancer, among other applications.
The record-setting beam measures 20 billion trillion watts per square centimeter. It contains 300 terawatts of power. That’s 300 times the capacity of the entire U.S. electricity grid. The laser beam’s power is concentrated to a 1.3-micron speck about 100th the diameter of a human hair. A human hair is about 100 microns wide.