Many lasers, including tabletop systems, have pulse powers in the multi-terawatt (1012 W) and petawatt (1015 W) range. When focused to an area of a few mm, the laser radiation can reach 1019 to >1020 W/cm2. It is at these ultra high intensities that an exciting new area of research, laser induced nuclear physics can be studied. Research by the Ultra Intense Laser Nuclear and Plasma Studies Group at the University of Strathclyde and the Nuclear Physics Group at the University of the West of Scotland concentrates on ultra-intense laser produced proton, neutron, γ-rays and heavy ion beams as well as fast particle production and effects on the nucleus.
These energetic particles and high energy γ-rays have a number of potential applications. For example multi-MeV proton beams generated from intense laser-plasma interactions, have been used to produce short-lived positron emitting isotopes 11C and 18F which are of medical interest. Also for the first time laser production of FDG, a radiopharmaceutical used in Positron Emission Tomography (PET) has been demonstrated. Laser-driven reactions have also been used to diagnose plasma parameters and to demonstrate transmutation of long half-life nuclear waste nuclei, such as 129I.