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Extreme Plasma Acceleration: From the Laboratory to Astrophysics

Principal Investigator: Jorge Vieira, Instituto Superior Técnico, Universidade de Lisboa (Portugal)
HPC Platform: SuperMUC of LRZ
Date Published: September 2014
LRZ Project ID: pr89to

The study of novel particle acceleration and radiation mechanisms is important to develop advanced technology for industrial and medical applications, but also to advance our understanding of fundamental scientific questions from sub-atomic to astronomical scales. Particle accelerators, for instance, are widely used in high-energy physics and to generate x-rays for medical and scientific imaging.

Standard accelerators capable to reach the energy frontier are very large and expensive. Investigating more compact and cheaper acceleration concepts is then beneficial for science and applications. Plasmas, which can be thought as a soup of electrons and ions, are interesting for this purpose. Since they can provide acceleration rates that are much larger than those of conventional devices, plasmas may lead to a new generation of compact accelerators. Particle acceleration in plasma waves is similar to sea wave surfing, using intense laser pulse or particle bunch (boats on water) to excite relativistic plasma waves (sea waves for surfing).

Plasma particle acceleration and radiation generation mechanisms can also play a key role in resolving outstanding astrophysical mysteries, such as the origin of cosmic rays and gamma ray bursts through collisionless shocks and magnetic field generation and amplification mechanisms.

The relevant physics in these scenarios is very complex, resulting from the combined dynamics of several thousands up to a few million interacting particles. Since the motion of these particles is often relativistic, the use of Special Relativity is also required, making theoretical predictions even more complicated. Exploring the resulting self-consistent interactions then requires the largest super computers available in order to perform predictive numerical simulations that can be directly compared with experimental results, that can guide experimental design, and that contribute to develop simplified theories.

Using the unique computing resources of LRZ’s HPC system SuperMUC, provided through the Partnership for Advanced Computing in Europe (PRACE), the project tackled important questions to advance plasma accelerators and to improve the understanding of particle acceleration and radiation generation mechanisms in astrophysics. A team of scientists investigated novel positron and ion acceleration schemes towards a future plasma based linear collider and medical applications, novel magnetic field generation mechanisms relevant in astrophysical scenarios, and laser-plasma interaction studies for fusion applications. Some of the results will have a direct impact in current plasma acceleration experiments (e.g. at CERN), while others may open new plasma acceleration perspectives and lead to innovative experiments aiming at reproducing astrophysical conditions in the laboratory.

Research team:
A. Ciraci, L.D. Amorim, P. Alves, M. Vranic, V.B. Pathak, K. Schoeffler, A. Stockem, T. Grismayer, J. Vieira (PI of PRACE project), R.A. Fonseca, L.O. Silva
Website: http://epp.ist.utl.pt

Acknowledgements:

The project was made possible through the Partnership for Advanced Computing in Europe (PRACE). HPC system SuperMUC of Leibniz Supercomputing Centre in Garching near Munich (Germany) served as computing platform for this project.

Further credits go to FCT (Portugal), Grant No. EXPL/FIS-PLA/0834/1012 and the European Research Council (ERC-2010-AdG Grant No. 267841)

Extreme Plasma Acceleration: From the Laboratory to AstrophysicsFig. 1: 3D simulation of a plasma wakefield (green isosurfaces and gray projections) excited by a doughnut shaped laser (orange-black projections). Positron acceleration with strong acceleration gradients can occur near the central region of the doughnut structure.
Copyright:  Instituto Superior Técnico, Universidade de Lisboa

Extreme Plasma Acceleration: From the Laboratory to AstrophysicsFig. 2: 3D simulation of a long particle bunch in a plasma in the conditions of future plasma acceleration experiments at CERN. The self-consistent beam-plasma interaction leads to the generation of a particle bunch train (yellow and orange) exciting large amplitude plasma waves (blue and gray)
Copyright:  Instituto Superior Técnico, Universidade de Lisboa

Extreme Plasma Acceleration: From the Laboratory to AstrophysicsFig. 3: 3D simulation result showing the irradiation of a dense hydrogen target by a high intensity laser. Colored spheres represent accelerated protons.
Copyright:  Instituto Superior Técnico, Universidade de Lisboa

Extreme Plasma Acceleration: From the Laboratory to AstrophysicsFig. 4: 3D simulation result showing electron density vortices and magnetic fields in extreme astrophysical scenarios.
Copyright: Instituto Superior Técnico, Universidade de Lisboa


Scientific Contact:

Jorge Vieira
Instituto Superior Técnico
Universidade de Lisboa
Avenida Rovisco Pais 1
P-1049-001 Lisboa/Portugal
e-mail: jorge.vieira@ist.utl.pt

September 2014