Engineering news

Compact particle accelerator firm TAU Systems upgrades key laser tech

Professional Engineering

White light from a laser-generated air plasma on the pointing screen of the TAU electron spectrometer (Credit: TAU Systems)
White light from a laser-generated air plasma on the pointing screen of the TAU electron spectrometer (Credit: TAU Systems)

A company that aims to democratise access to particle accelerators to boost worldwide research has upgraded a vital piece of equipment.

The Tabletop Terawatt Laser (UT3) at the University of Texas was upgraded by TAU Systems, both in Austin, to provide improved performance for powering its compact particle accelerators.

The work, announced by TAU today (18 August), is part of a collaboration between the company and the university to jointly develop the fundamental elements of laser-plasma interactions. The upgrade will advance “the science and technology of compact accelerator systems and advanced light sources, with the goal of making these tools widely available to a broad range of end-users and industry,” the announcement said.

TAU is developing plasma accelerators the size of two shipping containers. By going from “miles to metres and billions of dollars to millions”, the company aims to democratise access to the advanced technology, giving ‘beamtime’ to researchers at universities and companies around the world.

That research could have far-reaching consequences in diverse fields including medicine, nuclear waste treatment and climate change studies, CEO and founder Bjorn Manuel Hegelich told Professional Engineering previously.

The upgraded UT3 reaches almost twice the energy of its predecessor, producing ultrashort laser pulses with a peak power of 40 terawatts (TW). The upgrade was done by personnel from TAU and the university, with necessary components from the Thales Laser company. TAU said it had “already shown the new potential of the facility” through the successful laser-driven acceleration of electrons in an all-new TAU-designed beamline.

The system will now be used for the development of compact and novel laser-wakefield accelerators, and extreme ultraviolet (EUV) and X-ray light sources for applications in the semiconductor industry, material science, battery technology, medical imaging and more.

Hegelich, who is also a professor in the university’s physics department, said: “Having successfully completed this important UT3 upgrade we are looking forward to pushing the engineering frontiers of laser-driven particle accelerators. It will enable us to develop new imaging capabilities for users both from within and from outside UT.”

The upgrade represents the “next significant step” in making plasma wakefield accelerators available for commercial use, the company said. It intends to install a system 100-times more powerful in its recently acquired premises in San Diego by the end of the year.

“The opening of the Service Centre will create previously unavailable opportunities for researchers across a number of fields, especially semiconductor manufacturing through the exploration and the metrology of 3D structures in semiconductors. The Service Centre will also allow EV battery developers to comprehensively study the charge and discharge of batteries,” the announcement said.

Professor Mike Downer from UT Austin said: “The new research capabilities enabled by this upgrade are exciting, and we look forward to furthering the development of compact electron accelerators and 21st century X-ray sources.”

Want the best engineering stories delivered straight to your inbox? The Professional Engineering newsletter gives you vital updates on the most cutting-edge engineering and exciting new job opportunities. To sign up, click here.

Content published by Professional Engineering does not necessarily represent the views of the Institution of Mechanical Engineers.


Professional Engineering magazine

Professional Engineering app

  • Industry features and content
  • Engineering and Institution news
  • News and features exclusive to app users

Download our Professional Engineering app

Professional Engineering newsletter

A weekly round-up of the most popular and topical stories featured on our website, so you won't miss anything

Subscribe to Professional Engineering newsletter

Opt into your industry sector newsletter

Related articles