Manufacturing Bits: Oct. 4

China’s powerful laser; free neutron measurements; new dimensional tool.


China’s powerful laser
The Shanghai Superintense-Ultrafast Lasers Facility (SULF) in China claims to have demonstrated the world’s most powerful laser.

The ultra-intense, ultra-fast laser is said to have delivered a peak power of more than five petawatts. This is supposedly the largest peak-power laser pulse ever measured on record. A petawatt is equivalent to one quadrillion watts.

Researchers from China hope to develop 10-petawatt lasers by next year. The laser project are expected to be put into operation by the end of 2018.

SULF is being developed by the Shanghai Institute of Optics and Fine Mechanics (SIOM), which is part of the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS). The laser facility is located in ShanghaiTech University.

The Shanghai Superintense-Ultrafast Lasers Facility (Image by ZHAO Kan)

The Shanghai Superintense-Ultrafast Lasers Facility (Image by ZHAO Kan)

Laser technology can be used for several applications, such as astrophysics, nuclear medicine, material science, among others. “The extreme physical conditions created by the laser pulses with petawatt level peak power exist mainly inside stars or (the) edge of black holes,” said Leng Yuxin, the laboratory head, in a statement. “With the laser beams we can create such extreme environments in a controllable scale within a laboratory, and help scientists in producing hyperfast X-ray sources, finding new materials under extreme conditions and even detect dark matter.”

Last year, Osaka University developed a powerful laser, which can deliver up to 2,000 trillion watts in the duration of one trillionth of one second. This corresponds to 1,000 times the integrated electric power consumed in the world.

Others are also building powerful lasers, namely the ELI International Beamlines in the Czech Republic. The main goal of ELI is to create the latest laser equipment in the world. ELI will provide ultra-short laser pulses of a few femtoseconds duration and give performance up to 10 petawatts.

China, meanwhile, continues to advance its technology at a rapid pace. China recently stunned the industry, when the nation rolled out the world’s fastest supercomputer. The system, dubbed the Sunway TaihuLight, is based on processors made in China, not Intel or other U.S. chipmakers. On top of that, China has finished the construction of the world’s largest radio telescope. The system, dubbed the Five-hundred-meter Aperture Spherical radio Telescope (FAST), makes use of 4,450 reflecting panels. It’s roughly the size of 30 soccer fields.

Free neutron measurements
The SINE2020 project is offering neutron scattering measurements for companies based in Europe—at no charge.

SINE2020, a consortium of 18 partner institutions from 12 countries, is funded by the European Union (EU). Today, Europe has several research facilities that provide neutron scattering measurements for researchers. In addition, the EU is funding the development of the world’s most powerful neutron source.

Protons and neutrons form the nucleus of most atoms. A neutron is a subatomic particle. It has no electric charge and a mass slightly larger than a proton. Neutrons react in different ways to various materials.

The science of neutron scattering provides a glimpse into the structure of matter and atoms. It also helps to analyze the magnetic properties of materials. Neutron scattering is a non-destructive imaging technique. Typically, a beam of neutrons hits a sample. Some neutrons will go through the sample. Some will hit and interact with atomic nuclei. Those will bounce away at an angle, which is neutron diffraction or scattering. With this, researchers can investigate the nature of materials.

To enable this technology, neutrons must be released from the nucleus using fission. Most existing sources are based on the use of nuclear reactors. Another way is to fire a high-energy beam of protons into a neutron-rich element such as lead or tungsten. This process is called spallation.

Using this technology, a project called the European Spallation Source (ESS) is building the world’s most powerful neutron source. Based in Sweden, ESS will begin operation in 2019. ESS received a major boost in June, when Laboratori Nazionali del Sud (LNS) of the Italian National Institute of Nuclear Physics (INFN) created plasma in the ion source. The highly-ionized plasma will produce the proton beam essential to run the ESS accelerator.

First Plasma in the ESS Ion Source at Laboratori Nazionali del Sud, INFN, Catania, Italy. (Source: ESS)

First Plasma in the ESS Ion Source at Laboratori Nazionali del Sud (Source: ESS)

The ESS accelerator makes use of a 2.86 ms long proton pulse at 2GeV at a repetition rate of 14Hz, representing 5 MW of average beam power with a 4% duty cycle on target. Protons from the accelerator will hit a target, which is a 4-ton helium-cooled tungsten wheel.

New dimensional tool
For more than 15 years, the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) has provided researchers with dimensional measurement services.

For this, NIST offers the Moore M48 coordinate measuring machine (CMM). The instrument uses a touch probe to detect samples. It also makes use of integrated laser interferometers to measure the distances between objects in three dimensions with ten billionths of a meter sensitivity.

The problem? The machine is nearly always booked. Customers must wait several months for time to use the machine.

Now, NIST has commissioned a second Moore M48 CMM. This machine, nicknamed “Bob”, is now online and being used for calibration services, at least in one dimension with accuracy nearly identical to the primary CMM. The machine can be used to develop measurement capabilities for micro-sized features and small holes, fiber optic ferrules, and micro-tomography artifacts for metrological x-ray computed tomography.

NIST's new coordinate measuring machine, "Bob." (Source: NIST)

NIST’s new coordinate measuring machine, “Bob.” (Source: NIST)

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