New lasers have arrived which can exert power at the level of petawatts (PW) – millions of a billion watts. All power grids combined achieve only hundredths of that power. To yield such immense power, however, the pulses produced by these table-top lasers need to be very short. Physicists now attempt durations as short as femtoseconds – millionths of a billionth of a second. Edwin Cartlidge paints a fascinating picture of the development of lasers, the challenges in reaching PW levels, and the ways forward to ever more capable lasers that will open up new possibilities in scientific research and medicine.
About the Author
Edwin Cartlidge is a freelance science journalist based in Rome.