Understanding the physics underlying the intense, short-pulse laser-plasma interactions is fundamental to the design of laser-plasma accelerators (LPAs). LPAs use the ponderomotive force—the pressure exerted by the light—of an intense, short laser pulse to drive a large amplitude wave in a plasma. Electrons injected into this plasma wave rapidly accelerate to high energies.

The BELLA Center is at the forefront of research on LPAs, pioneering the highly nonlinear interaction of lasers and particle beams with plasma. Our work involves developing cutting-edge theoretical frameworks and software tools to simulate these interactions. This also consists of proposing groundbreaking accelerator concepts and modeling new and ongoing experiments at the BELLA Center laser facilities.

Our theory and modeling efforts deepen our understanding of LPAs and explore their practical applications. These include laser-plasma-based sources of electrons, positrons, protons, ions, and muons and compact LPA-based sources of X-rays and gamma rays and could revolutionize various fields, from medicine to energy production.

Snapshot from a particle-in-cell simulation performed with the code ALaDyn showing the electron plasma wave (blue colormap, top panel) and the corresponding longitudinal wakefield (red-blue colormap, bottom panel) excited by a short and intense laser pulse in a plasma.

High-energy physics will also benefit from these advantages, and we are actively investigating the potential of LPA technology for an electron-positron linear collider at multi-TeV center-of-mass energy. In such a collider concept, the linear accelerators would consist of many LPA modules, each powered by a separate laser pulse, to boost particle energy by several GeV per module. Staging many modules together in series allows ultra-high particle energies to be reached. 

Theory and modeling are vital complements to our experimental program for understanding the physics of stage coupling and the physics within each stage.