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June 24, 2004

Most powerful laser to date produced at U-M;
technology could revolutionize cancer treatment

ANN ARBOR, Mich.—University of Michigan researchers recently produced what is believed to be the highest-intensity laser pulse ever obtained.

The U-M-built laser, called High Energy Repetitive CUos Laser System (HERCULES), is so compact and intense that it could revolutionize the way cancer is treated, researchers say.

The ultra-fast laser pulse generated by HERCULES is 50 times more powerful than all the world's power plants combined, said Gerard Mourou, professor and director of the Center for Ultrafast Optical Science in the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science.

Besides basic research, an important practical application for the laser is ion therapy used to treat cancer patients. Ion therapy is successful, but the particle accelerators used for the treatment are so big and expensive—because they must generate huge amounts of power—that they render the treatment unavailable to the public.

This new type of laser-based accelerator relies on the increased speed of the particle by the enormous electric field of the laser accelerator, which is one million times larger than conventional ones. U-M's laser can be used in compact particle accelerators, which would make the ion therapy more affordable and accessible. Now, only a handful of locations worldwide offer the ion therapy, said Victor Yanovsky, assistant research scientist who designed the HERCULES laser.

Ion therapy is the preferred method to treat cancer because it causes minimal collateral damage to neighboring tissues unlike say, radiation therapy, which damages healthy as well as diseased areas.

The powerful, compact lasers use short pulses. The laser pulse developed at U-M lasts only 30 femtoseconds, the time it takes for light to travel the distance of a blood cell. The pulse was focused on an area 1/100th of the width of a hair. U-M researchers announced the development at the 2004 Lasers and Electro-Optics/International Quantum Electronics Conference in San Francisco in late May.

The research is primarily funded by the National Science Foundation FOCUS Physiscs Frontier Center.

Mourou can be reached at (734) 763- 4877 or mourou@umich.edu.

For more information, visit: http://www.eecs.umich.edu/CUOS/

The U-M College of Engineering is celebrating its 150th anniversary this year, and is consistently ranked among the top engineering schools in the world. The college is comprised of 11 academic departments: aerospace engineering; atmospheric, oceanic and space sciences; biomedical engineering; chemical engineering; civil and environmental engineering; electrical engineering and computer science; industrial and operations engineering; materials science and engineering; mechanical engineering; naval architecture and marine engineering; and nuclear engineering and radiological sciences. Each year the college enrolls more than 7,000 undergraduate and graduate students and grants about 1,200 undergraduate degrees and 800 masters and doctoral degrees. To learn more, visit www.engin.umich.edu.

 

Contact: Laura Bailey
Phone: (734) 647-7087 or (734) 647-1848
E-mail: baileylm@umich.edu