Bucharest one of three European cities to host ambitious laser research project
Bucharest, Prague and Szeged will host, up until 2015, the most ambitious ever pan-European scientific research infrastructure in the field of laser technology.
The project is called the ELI - Extreme Light Infrastructure - or extreme light infrastructure study. Ranked as the most important research project in the world devoted to laser technology, ELI groups together 40 research institutions and higher education establishments in 13 European Union countries. Along with the three pillars that have already been chosen as leaders of the project, the most important one being Bucharest up until 2012, a fourth should also be built and operational by 2017. The three facilities will be able to produce high ELI intensities - about six orders of magnitude more than the most powerful lasers used today – around 12 petawaţi - i.e. tens of trillions of watts.
In Hungary, at Szeged, the ELI pillar – called Attosecond ELI - will be dedicated to analysing extremely fast dynamics by taking snap-shots in the attosecond scale (a billion of a billion of second) of the electron dynamics in atoms, molecules, plasmas and solids. It will also pursue research into ultrahigh intensity lasers.
In the Czech Republic, in Prague, the ELI pillar called ELI Beamlines will focus on providing users with ultra-short energetic particles (10 GeV) and radiation (up to a few MeV) beams produced from compact laser plasma accelerators.
The third infrastructure, called ELI Nuclear Physics, will be built using the Magurele platform, which has a long tradition of studying both lasers and nuclear physics – the first Romanian laser, developed by Professor John I. Agîrbiceanu’s team, was inaugurated on 20 October 1962.
"It is the first project of its kind east of the Rhine," says Nicolae Zamfir, Director of the Institute of Physics and Nuclear Engineering (IFIN). "They chose Romania because the country benefits from a great number of experts in nuclear physics. In addition, Romania is a founding member of two large projects that have already begun, Fair and SPIRAL2,” explains Zamfir. Magurele also provides Romania with an added advantage: it is the only eastern European institution built along Western lines. Horia Hulubei (not the institute founder) had a vision and designed Măgurelele based on what he had seen in France. At Magurele there is the largest concentration of specialists in nuclear physics in all of Eastern Europe.
Total project costs are quite high. For example, the preparation phase will cost 85 million euros and construction 400 million euros. You also have to add to this the cost of operating the facility, which is estimated at 50 million euros per year. The ultimate objective is to produce 100 petawaţis. Construction of the plant, which will produce 10PW, starts in 2011 and will end in 2015.
Here is an abstract of an interview that was conducted with Nicolae Zamfir (Editor-in-Chief)
Question: What does the Extreme Light Infrastructure project represent?
Answer: The pan–European Extreme Light Infrastructure (ELI) projects refers to the construction of extremely powerful lasers (tens of PW – by comparison with only hundreds of TW currently installed in the world). It was initiated in 2005 by a group of physicists from Europe. In 2006, the ELI project was listed in the European Strategy Forum for Research Infrastructures list of priorities for research infrastructure projects.
Question: Romania is involved in this project together with the Czech Republic and Hungary. How did this cooperation come into being and who was the initiator of the project? How will the states cooperate?
Answer: Between 2008 and 2010, the project was financially supported by the European Commission, by means of a Preparatory Phase project in which 13 countries participated, including Romania. On 1 October 2009, the Executive Committee of the project decided to build the ELI project in three locations: Prague (the Czech Republic), Szeged (Hungary) and Bucharest (Magurele), Romania. The three infrastructures are independent of each other, but have complementary scientific purposes. This decision, validated in December 2009 by the European’s Commission Competition Council, allowed for the construction of the first large-scale research infrastructure of its kind in Central and Eastern Europe. On 15 April 2010, the representatives of the three ELI partner countries signed an agreement for the establishment of the ELI Consortium (ELI-DC, ELI – Delivery Consortium), which will coordinate the activities related to the utilisation of the ELI infrastructure at the European level.
Question: What is the European Light Infrastructure-Nuclear Physics (ELI-NP) and how does it work?
Answer: ELI-Nuclear Physics (ELI-NP) is the infrastructure dedicated to nuclear studies of the interaction between powerful laser radiation and matter. The main instruments used will be two large lasers (10 PW capacity) and an intense, high-performance source of γ radiation. Due to the worldwide combination of these instruments, the ELI project will permit unique research to be carried out into fundamental physics and applied research. The study experiments will analyse the photonic interaction of large intensity lasers with matter.
Question: What are the applications of ELI-NP?
Answer: For future research, ELI-NP will have a significant impact in the following areas:
Life sciences: new medicines and radiopharmaceuticals, new therapies (alternatives to current cancer therapy based on ionic fascicles), greater understanding of the effects of radiation on biological samples, the X-ray imaging of ultrafast molecular processes.
Materials science: the mechanism of damage resulting from exposure to intense photonic radiation fluxes, electrons, positrons or neutrons
Nuclear industry: the characterisation of nuclear fuel and radioactive waste management
Safety: radiography of sensitive nuclear materials: Uranium and Plutonium
R&D: Innovation in the fields of optics and laser technology
New concepts in the construction of particle accelerators
Question: Are there any other Romanian organisations involved in the ELI project alongside IFIN-HH?
Answer: ELI-NP will be built in Romania, using the physics platform of Magurele (near Bucharest) and the organisation that is responsible for supplying ELI-NP is the National Institute for Nuclear Physics and Engineering “Horia Hulubei” (IFIN-HH). In addition to IFIN-HH, the National Institute for Laser Physics, Plasma and Radiation (INFLPR) is also involved in the project, together with other institutions that are part of the Magurele Platform. Also, great support for the project has been given by the University of Bucharest, the Politechnica University of Bucharest and other universities in Bucharest and Romania.
Question: What are the reasons why Romania was selected to host the ELI-NP project?
Answer: The Magurele Platform is a hub of physics and science, not only for our country, but for Eastern Europe. Its history begins with the construction of the Institute for Atomic Physics, the first research institute in the country and the commissioning, in 1956, of the first large piece of physics equipment, the Nuclear Research Reactor and the Cyclotron. This was followed shortly by the construction of the first Romanian electronic computing system (1957) and of the first laser in the country (1962), which is the third functional laser in the world (after the United States and Russia). The Magurele Platform offers today the most significant concentration of researchers in Central and Eastern Europe with special skills relevant to the ELI-NP project, i.e. laser physics, nuclear physics, material physics, engineering, etc. It compares with any of the world’s largest research centres.
Question: Do you believe that the ELI-NP project offers opportunities for studying and employment for young specialists in Romania?
Answer: ELI-NP will be an international research centre of great importance in the field of high-power lasers and photonic interaction with matter. Within this context, it will provide support training for the workforce through graduate and post-graduate university studies in a variety of fields, including physics, engineering, chemistry, biology etc. At the same time, it will represent a focal point for elite researchers in laser physics, nuclear physics and materials physics, as well as for engineers from Romania and worldwide. We hope that this infrastructure, with the 200 researchers who will work here during the operation phase, will contribute to stopping the “brain drain” phenomenon in Romania and attract Romanian scientists who want to complete their studies and further develop their skills in Universities and research centres.