Structured Plasma Waveguides and Deep EUV Generation Enabled by Intense Laser-Cluster Interactions

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Using the unique properties of the interaction between intense, short-pulse lasers and nanometer scale van-der-Waals bonded aggregates (or `clusters'), modulated waveguides in hydrogen, argon and nitrogen plasmas were produced and extreme ultraviolet (EUV) light was generated in deeply ionized nitrogen plasmas. A jet of clusters behaves as an array of mass-limited, solid-density targets with the average density of a gas.

Two highly versatile experimental techniques are demonstrated for making preformed plasma waveguides with periodic structure within a laser-ionized cluster jet. The propagation of ultra-intense femtosecond laser pulses with intensities up to 2x1017 W/cm2 has been experimentally demonstrated in waveguides generated using both methods, limited by available laser energy. The first uses a ring grating' to impose radial intensity modulations on the channel-generating laser pulse, which leads to axial intensity modulations at the laser focus within the cluster jet target. This creates a waveguide with axial modulations in diameter with a period between 35 μm and 2 mm, determined by the choice of ring grating. The second method creates modulated waveguides by focusing a uniform laser pulse within a jet of clusters with flow that has been modulated by periodically spaced wire obstructions. These wires make sharp, stable voids as short as 50 μm with a period as small as 200 μm within waveguides of hydrogen, nitrogen, and argon plasma. The gaps persist as the plasma expands for the full lifetime of the waveguide. This technique is useful for quasi-phase matching applications where index-modulated guides are superior to diameter modulated guides. Simulations show that these slow wave' guiding structures could allow direct laser acceleration of electrons, achieving gradients of 80 MV/cm and 10 MV/cm for laser pulse powers of 1.9 TW and 30 GW, respectively.

Results are also presented from experiments in which a nitrogen cluster jet from a cryogenically cooled gas valve was irradiated with relativistically intense (up to 2x1018 W/cm2) femtosecond laser pulses. The original purpose of these experiments was to create a transient recombination-pumped nitrogen soft x-ray laser on the 2p3/2→1s1/2 (λ = 24.779 Å) and 2p1/2→1s1/2 (λ = 24.785 Å) transitions in H-like nitrogen (N6+). Although no amplification was observed, trends in EUV emission from H-like, He-like and Li-like nitrogen ions in the 15 - 150 Å spectral range were measured as a function of laser intensity and cluster size. These results were compared with calculations run in a 1-D fluid laser-cluster interaction code to study the time-dependent ionization, recombination, and evolution of nitrogen cluster plasmas.