Ultraintense Research

Short-pulse lasers at the high-intensity extreme offer an opportunity to explore regions of the quantum vacuum that push the envelope of current knowledge while, at the same time, enabling new technologies that hold promise to improve our lives.  Powers ranging from a few hundred terawatts (1012 W) to a few petawatts (soon to be tens of petawatts , 1015 W) now allow a host of investigations that heretofore have never been possible.  When focused, these pulses can reach intensities of 1022 W/cm2 in which free electrons are accelerated to ultra-relativistic energies within one optical cycle.  Near the 1025 W/cm2 intensity threshold, the quantum vacuum, consisting of  virtual electron-positron pairs, continually fluctuate in and out of existence, will be stressed to the point where the vacuum affects how light propagates through it.  At extreme intensities (~ 1029 W/cm2), some models predict real matter-antimatter pairs can be created out of the vacuum.


This research is part of an international collaboration involving researchers at a variety of universities and national labs with ongoing experiments, and more planned, at state-of-the-art petawatt facilities around world.  Our primary focus is to enhance our understanding of the quantum vacuum and to test quantum electrodynamics (QED) at new levels.  This is a long-term project requiring many technological advances along the way, many of which will make ideal PhD theses.  These advances include the development of new and more sensitive diagnostic tools, which constitutes the second thrust area of this program.  In addition, as mentioned above, concomitant with technological advances are important societal byproducts.  One of these is proton acceleration, the third thrust area of the program.


Ultraintense Research Pages


Proton Acceleration


Quantum Vacuum

Group Lead

Wendell T. Hill

(301) 405 4813


Room B0165 Physical Sciences Complex

Building 415, University of Maryland

College Park, MD 20742


This work is supported by the National Science Foundation