World’s most powerful laser to be sited in Czech Republic

Photo: ELI

Last week the European Commission confirmed the world’s most powerful laser known as ELI (which stands for Light Infrastructure) will be developed in the town of Dolní Břežany, near Prague. At the cost of 6.7 billion crowns, the laser could spur breakthroughs in everything from nuclear physics to medical diagnosis, treatment and therapy.

Photo: ELI
I spoke to Professor Vlastimil Růžička, the head of the ELI project and asked him how he had welcomed the recent decision.

“We had expected the decision for a long time, for almost six months, so we were eager to get the green light. So it was a big relief for us and a promising start for the future of the ELI project.”

What are some specifics about the ELI superlaser in terms of strength and what will be possible scientific applications?

Photo: ELI
“ELI is going to be the world’s most powerful laser, producing the most intense pulses of light on the globe. It’s a laser in the class of ten to 100 petawatts of output power. It is going to be used in different areas of research from physics, lab astrophysics, to chemistry, biology, materials sciences and medicine.”

It sounds exciting, you must be very pleased...

“Well yes I am, as are all the members of the ELI team. It’s a great challenge for the scientific community as well as for Czech high-tech industry where we expect some input and deliverables. I also dare to say it will be a challenge for the whole country, as an example of good practice. I should add that ELI is one of less than 50 pan-European research infrastructures which are on the roadmap of the European strategic forum. And ELI is the first such infrastructure to be built in a new member state.”

Vlastimil Růžička
For years we’ve heard about a brain drain of top specialists in Czech science: now people are talking about a brain gain, that ELI will attract many experts home: do you expect this to be the case?

“I think this will be the case and I already have two examples of highly-respected scientists who are working for us: one is Daniel Kramer, who spent five years at CERN. Another is Pavel Bakule who spent 18 years at the Appleton lab in the United Kingdom.”

When will the facility become operational?

“It should be operational by 2016 but in order to use the structural funds it has to be completed by 2015.”