Extreme light source takes shape

Jan Ridky, director of the Institute of Physics of the Czech Academy of Sciences, describes the science potential of a high-power international laser facility nearing completion in the Czech Republic.

What is the Extreme Light Infrastructure (ELI) project?

ELI is an international user facility based on providing intense sources of light and particles for a variety of scientific disciplines. It is part of a Europe-wide plan to build a new generation of research facilities open to scientists from across the world. ELI is spread across three sites in three countries: ELI Beamlines near Prague in the Czech Republic; ELI Attosecond in Szeged, Hungary; and ELI Nuclear Physics in Magurele, Romania. Its total cost is around €900m (approximately $1bn).

How did it come about?

The project was proposed in 2006 by French laser pioneer Gérard Mourou, and was very much driven by the laser community. People realized that a facility based on next-generation laser technology providing extremely high peak powers at 10 PW or beyond would be too expensive for one country to fund. Although countries such as the UK and France applied to host the facility, eventually it was decided that ELI could be an opportunity to raise the scientific profile of new EU member states. The advance of these huge lasers has led the laser community to organize themselves around the model of CERN.

What is its current status?

The European Commission awarded a grant for a preparatory phase in 2007. This effort finished in 2010, the year after I became director of ELI Beamlines, and the green light came in 2011. Construction of the ELI Beamlines buildings is now complete and we expect to start installing the lasers this year. We hope to have first users in 2018, and the other two ELI centres are at a similar stage.

The whole article please find here (Physics World, June 2016).