17 Dec 2018

A salute to ELI's Founding Father and Nobel Prize Laureate Gérard Mourou

During the traditional Nobel Prize Award Ceremony at the Stockholm Concert Hall on Monday December 10th, French laser physicist Gérard Mourou, together with his former student Donna Strickland and Arthur Ashkin, received the Nobel Prize in Physics from King Carl XVI Gustaf of Sweden.

For ELI, this Nobel Prize is special in many ways. It highlights the very invention that made ELI and extreme laser light science possible. The technique of Chirped Pulse Amplification described and demonstrated by Mourou and Strickland allows to amplify ultra-short laser pulses to ultra-high power levels, opening up unprecedented opportunities for scientific research and applications.

Copyright Nobel Media, photo: Alexander Mahmoud

This attention for high-power lasers comes at a time that ELI is moving into operations. The three facilities in the Czech Republic, Hungary and Romania are completing constructions and entering a phase of commissioning and early operations during which they will start giving access to external users and ramp up their systems towards their final specifications. This phase comes together with an institutional transition that will see the integration of the three Facilities into a single European Research Infrastructure Consortium, ELI ERIC, that will operate ELI and promote its further development.

Founding Father of ELI
Though ELI is the result of the hard work put in over many years by many people, it is no overstatement to say that Gérard Mourou is the founding father of ELI. It was Gérard Mourou who, together with his co-laureate Donna Strickland, demonstrated the technique of Chirped Pulse Amplification that paved the way to the petawatt lasers. It was also Gérard who, during a conference dinner in the early 2000s, quite literally on the back of a napkin proposed the visionary idea of building 10 to even 100 petawatt lasers. And where other people might have suggested building such a facility only to move on with their own research, he made the realization of ELI into a personal mission. He spent over six years putting all of the ideas, people and resources in place and coordinated the project’s Preparatory Phase.

Anyone who talks with Gérard about his work will notice he is very passionate about the impact of laser science on industry and technology. At ELI, we have inherited his enthusiasm. We are not only aiming to contribute to the advancement of science, for example in the field of nuclear physics or attosecond science. We also work on the development of applications like laser-driven acceleration of particles, enabling accelerators to scale down from kilometer-long synchrotrons to (smaller than) room-sized installations. The state-of-the-art technology we develop to be able to deal with the extremities of our facilities in terms of power, repetition rates and timescales, will undoubtedly also turn out to be useful for other applications, “trickle down” to other laboratories and become mainstream and more affordable. These ‘off-the-shelf’ high-power lasers will hopefully turn out to be a swiss army knife for industry, leading to applications we cannot begin to imagine just now.

Since all of the high-power laser technology is scalable, we are still at the beginning of exciting new times. None of this would have been possible without the wit and never-ending ambition of Gérard Mourou. ELI’s mastermind, to whom we pay tribute with this special issue of our newsletter.

Allen Weeks
Director General ELI-DC

Here you can read the Announcement.