The committee came to a number of conclusions based on the findings in the preceding chapters of this report. These involve all aspects of high-intensity laser science: science opportunities, applications, technology, stewardship, manpower, and the international landscape.
Conclusion 1: The science is important. High-intensity lasers enable a large and important body of science.
This study concludes that the case for high-intensity and high-powered laser-enabled science is unusually strong and broad. Chapter 5 shows that the research undertaken with the lasers in this study will have a major impact in the fields of plasma physics and planetary and stellar astrophysics, and is very likely to have a strong impact in accelerator physics, particle physics, and nuclear physics. These form a compelling science case for facilities in this area.
Conclusion 2: Applications exist in several areas. Intense ultrafast lasers have broad applicability beyond science to nuclear weapons stockpile stewardship as well as to industry and medicine. Science is a main application of high-intensity lasers, and all applications of high-intensity lasers rely on the fundamental science of high-intensity laser-matter interactions.
Chapter 6 outlines how further work in this area shows promise for more such industrial applications, including areas that are important to U.S. leadership in critical technology areas such as microelectronics. However, effective cooperation is often lacking between U.S. private industry and government laboratories in this area.
Chapter 4 describes European expenditures for major high-intensity laser research centers that form a significant part of a broader plan in Europe to reinvest public funds in scientific infrastructure that will enable economic as well as technological advances in the coming decades. This connection between high-intensity laser infrastructure and economic advance can also be made in the United States.
Conclusion 3: The community is large but fragmented. There is a large and talented technical community already, but it is fragmented across different disciplines. Coordination between industry and government is limited and often inadequate. The scientists and engineers trained in intense ultrafast lasers contribute to the workforce for applications in photonics and optics, including high-energy lasers for defense and stockpile stewardship.
Many different science areas are already planning to use petawatt or other advanced ultrafast high-intensity sources for astrophysics, plasma physics, high energy density science, and materials science, but they have different conferences, academic departments, and different funding agencies including the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the Department of Energy (DOE), the Department of Transportation (DOT), and the National Science Foundation (NSF).
Conclusions 1-3 motivate the first recommendation.
Conclusion 4: No cross-agency stewardship exists. No single agency currently acts as the steward for high-intensity laser-based research in the United States. Programs are carried out under sponsorship of several different federal agencies, including DOE-SC, NNSA, AFOSR, ONR, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), and the National Science Foundation (NSF), according to their various missions and without the overall coordination that exists in Europe.
Federal agencies and industry in laser-enabled science and technology contribute to research across multiple levels. DOD and DARPA have supported high-intensity laser source science and engineering through single-investigator programs and multi-investigator multidisciplinary university research initiatives. NSF supports some single investigators and mid-scale instruments and applications at university-scale research centers. DOE-SC and NNSA laboratories provide to users unique state-of-the-art large-scale facilities such as X-ray free-electron lasers and
high energy pulsed lasers. Finally, industry works with some centers and single investigators to develop and provide advanced lasers and components, but there is no consistent program encouraging interagency program coordination or commercial industry involvement.
Conclusion 4 leads to the second recommendation.
Conclusion 5: The United States has lost its previous dominance. The United States was the leading innovator and dominant user of high-intensity laser technology when it was developed in the 1990s, but Europe and Asia have now grown to dominate this sector through coordinated national and regional research and infrastructure programs. In Europe, this has stimulated the emergence of the Extreme Light Infrastructure (ELI) program. At present, 80 to 90 percent of the high-intensity laser systems are overseas, and all of the highest power (multi-petawatt) research lasers currently in construction or already built are overseas (See Ch. 3).
The United States does have the infrastructure capacity to potentially engage in facility-level high-intensity science and leverage the capabilities in ELI. This includes the capability to consider the fourth “pillar” (fourth site) of ELI in the United States within DOE laboratories. The United States also has scientists who use facilities worldwide and want to work with ELI as both users and instrument developers.
Conclusion 5 leads to the third recommendation.
Conclusion 6: Co-location with existing infrastructure is essential. Co-location of high-intensity lasers with existing infrastructure such as particle accelerators has been recognized as a key advantage of the U.S. laboratories over the ELI concept in Europe.
There are already conceptual designs that place petawatt-class lasers at X-ray FELS and at high energy laser facilities where expertise is strong. The United States also has laser system expertise, highly advanced laser component suppliers, and strong university research and education programs as well as major government facilities. Co-location also takes advantage of the expertise of the scientists, engineers, and technicians who already use the facilities.
This conclusion leads directly to the fourth recommendation.
Conclusion 7: University/Laboratory/Industry cooperation is necessary to retain and renew the talent base. Cooperation among all sectors—private industry, research universities, and government laboratories—in the past has proved essential and the current situation could be improved to develop a
robust national talent pool and a strong technology base for this fast growing area.
High-intensity laser technology development efforts should coordinate the talents of universities for basic research, national laboratories for large facilities infrastructure, and private companies that can serve both commercial and scientific markets. Key component suppliers and commercial laser manufacturers are important stakeholders.
Based on these conclusions, the committee arrived at its recommendations (see next section).
This committee recommends specific actions by the study sponsors and the U.S. funding agencies they represent that will enable and strengthen U.S. participation in high-intensity laser research. These include the following: (1) form a network, (2) engage the community, (3) develop a stewardship strategy, (4) build one or more major facilities, and (5) create programs that engage the commercial and academic communities of interest. Taken together, these recommendations constitute a national strategy for high-intensity laser science and technology and lay out a roadmap for implementing this strategy.
Recommendation 1: The Department of Energy should create a broad national network, including universities, industry, and government laboratories, in coordination with the Office of Science and Technology Policy, the research arms of the Department of Defense, National Science Foundation, and other federal research organizations, as the cornerstone of a national strategy to support science, applications, and technology of intense and ultrafast lasers.
Recommendation 2: To increase integration and coordination in this field, the research agencies (Department of Defense, Department of Energy, National Science Foundation, and others) should engage the scientific stakeholders within the network to define what facilities and laser parameters will best serve research needs, emphasizing parameters beyond the current state of the art in areas critical to frontier science, such as peak power, repetition rate, pulse duration, wavelength, and focusable intensity.
Recommendation 3: The Department of Energy should lead the development of a comprehensive interagency national strategy for high-intensity lasers that includes a program for both developing and operating large-scale
laboratory projects; midscale projects such as those hosted at universities; and a technology development program with technology transfer among universities, U.S. industry, and national laboratories.
Recommendation 4: The Department of Energy should plan for at least one large-scale open-access high-intensity laser facility that leverages other major science infrastructure in the Department of Energy complex.
Recommendation 5: Agencies should create programs for U.S. scientists and engineers that include mid-scale infrastructure, project operations in high-intensity laser science in the United States, development of key underpinning technologies, and engagement in research at international facilities such as Extreme Light Infrastructure.