News, Va. – The Free-Electron Laser (FEL), supported
by the Office of Naval Research and located at the
U.S. Department of Energy's Thomas Jefferson National
Accelerator Facility, achieved 10 kilowatts of infrared
laser light in late June, making it the most powerful
tunable laser in the world. The recently upgraded
laser's new capabilities will enhance defense and
manufacturing technologies, and support advanced studies
of chemistry, physics, biology, and more.
"No other laser can provide the same benefits
to manufacturing, medical research, biology, and basic
physics," said ONR's Directed Energy Program
Officer, Mr. Quentin Saulter. "The Navy has chosen
the FEL because it has multi-mission capabilities.
Its unique, high-power and 24-hour capabilities are
ideal for Department of Defense, industrial, and scientific
The FEL program began as the One-Kilowatt Demonstration
FEL, which broke power records and made its mark as
the world's brightest high average power laser. It
delivered 2.1 kilowatts (kW) of infrared light, more
than twice it was initially designed to achieve, before
it was taken offline in November 2001 for an upgrade
to 10 kW. "Whenever a technology gains a factor
of ten improvement in performance, the achievement
opens the door to many new applications, some foreseen,
and some are simply very pleasant surprises,"
said Christoph Leemann, Jefferson Lab Director. "We
look forward to operating this exciting new machine
and carrying out the many experiments planned for
The FEL provides intense beams of laser light that
can be tuned to a precise wavelength, and which are
more powerful than beams from a conventional laser.
Conventional lasers are limited in the wavelength
of light they emit by the source of the electrons
(such as a gas or crystal) used within the laser.
In the FEL, electrons are stripped from their atoms
and then whipped up to high energies by a linear accelerator.
From there, they are steered into a wiggler--a device
that uses an electromagnetic field to shake the electrons,
forcing them to release some of their energy in the
form of photons. As in a conventional laser, the photons
are bounced between two mirrors and then emitted as
a coherent beam of light. However, FEL operators can
adjust the wavelength of the laser's emitted light
by increasing or decreasing the energies of the electrons
in the accelerator or the amount of shaking in the
"As we cross the 10 kW milestone, our team at
Jefferson Lab is grateful for the considerable support
and encouragement we have received from the Navy,
Air Force and our colleagues across the country,"
said Fred Dylla, Jefferson Lab FEL program manager.
ONR's Quentin Saulter manages the FEL development
effort in cooperation with the Naval Sea Systems Command
(NAVSEA) Directed Energy and Electric Weapons Office,
headed by Captain Roger McGinnis. ONR is also funding
the operation and optimization of the 10 kW FEL, and
has several experiments slated to begin in early fall.
A laser materials damage study will be co-funded with
the Office of the Secretary of Defense High Energy
Laser Joint Technology Office (HEL-JTO). In another
project, scientists from the Naval Research Laboratory
will study laser propagation through the atmosphere,
with an eye to new laser-based shipboard defense strategies.
The Navy is also interested in the ultraviolet and
terahertz light that the FEL can produce at world-record
powers. The Navy intends on using the lessons learned
from the development of the 10 kW FEL to begin design
and construction of a 100 kW FEL over the next four
years. Eventually, the Navy plans on moving the 100
kW laser to an over water test site, and scaling the
power up to megawatt levels.
Contact: Jennifer Huergo
Office of Naval Research