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Italy: Materials Science Novel Laser Technology Scales Down Particle Acceleration

Editor: Alexander Stark

After five years of work, Ensure, an ERC H2020 project developed at Politecnico di Milano, has achieved its main goal: to control and optimise an unconventional technique of particle acceleration by irradiating nanostructured materials with innovative properties using super-intense and ultra-short laser pulses.

Sketch representing the ion acceleration mechanism investigated within the framework of the project Ensure.
Sketch representing the ion acceleration mechanism investigated within the framework of the project Ensure.
(Source: Politecnico di Milano)

Milan/Italy — More compact and flexible accelerators, with reduced construction and radiation protection costs, for a variety of applications in different fields — this is what the project Ensure wants to deliver. In addition to their importance for basic science, the most relevant applications include:

  • Non-invasive analysis of materials of historical/artistic interest, for industrial use and environmental monitoring
  • Medical equipment sterilisation
  • Production of radioisotopes for medical, diagnostic, and therapeutic use
  • Radiography of containers in transit areas such as customs and airports

In cultural heritage fields a painting’s composition could be determined by analysing the properties of the materials used to make it. This can be done by irradiating the analysed object with particles accelerated by super-intense lasers and measuring the secondary radiation emitted upon the irradiation. In their article on Science Advances, the team at Politecnico di Milano demonstrated the feasibility of this type of application in collaboration with the team at the Centro De Láseres Pulsados in Salamanca, Spain.

In addition to the research results, Ensure has achieved other important goals. Politecnico di Milano has installed two new laboratories housing state-of-the-art scientific instruments to produce the non-conventional materials needed to manufacture the irradiated targets. An area of 100 m2 has been set up for two systems to produce nanostructured materials — a femtosecond pulsed laser deposition system and an innovative magnetron sputtering system. This equipment allows to produce materials of scientific interest which can be used in many different fields.

Ensure has set up a multidisciplinary research group, with expertise in the fields of physics, materials science and nuclear science and technology. The group comprises young researchers whose work has attracted the attention of the international scientific community, and enhances the University's expertise in these research areas.