For over 10 years, laser plasma acceleration (LPA) has been a rapidly growing technology
used to create electron beams on length-scales much smaller than that of a conventional
RF-accelerator . As electron beam properties improve, research for LPAs is expanding to
take advantage of the creation and accessibility of high-quality electron beams from plasma
targets. Two applications which are currently being explored are a multi-stage plasma
accelerator to reach energies greater than those a single-stage accelerator can achieve and
exploring the possibility of an LPA based free-electron laser (FEL) light source. Research
supporting both of these efforts has been performed on the 50 TW TREX laser system at
the BELLA Center at the Lawrence Berkeley National Lab, and the results of these efforts
are described in this dissertation.
Using chirped-pulsed amplification to produce high-quality laser pulses up to petawatt
levels, experimental results have yielded laser driven electron beam energies up to 4.25
GeV . By tuning the density of the target, the accelerating gradients sustained by the
plasma can grow beyond 100 GeV/m  (10^3 times larger than that of a conventional RF
accelerator). However, limiting factors such as dephasing of the electron beam from the
plasma wake, defocusing of a laser pulse, and energy depletion of the laser into the plasma
limit the maximum sensible length of a plasma accelerator. Staging the LPA with two or
more accelerating modules could be the next step towards producing beams with energies
greater than those possible with a single stage.
One requirement for staged acceleration is that the laser pulse used to drive the first
accelerating stage must be coupled out of the beamline, and a fresh laser pulse must be
coupled in for the second stage to post accelerate the electrons. To do this while maintaining
a short scale length between the two stages requires an optic to be placed near the final focus of the second laser pulse. Because damage will occur when the laser pulse interacts with a steering optic near focus, the coupling optic must be capable of replacing the surface
following damage on each successive shot. This thesis comprises a detailed investigation of the physics of using a plasma mirror (PM) from a tape by reflecting ultrashort pulses from
a laser-triggered surface plasma. The tapes used in the characterization of the PM are VHS
and computer data storage tape. The tapes are 6.6 m (computer storage tape) and 15 m
(VHS) thick. Each tape is 0.5 inches wide, and 10s of meters of tape are spooled using a tape drive; providing thousands of shots on a single reel of tape. The amount of reflected energy of the PM was studied for different input intensities. The fluence was varied by translating the focus of the laser upstream and downstream of the tape, which changed the spot size on the tape surface and hence changed the fluence. This study measured reflectances from both sides of the two tapes, and for input light of both s and p-polarizations. Lastly, an analytic model was developed to understand the reflectance as a function of fluence for each tape material and polarization.
Another application that benefits from the advancements of LPA technology is an LPAbased
FEL. By sending a high quality electron bunch through an undulator (a periodic
structure of positive and negative magnetic poles), the electrons oscillate transversely to the
propagation axis and produce radiation. The 1.5 m THUNDER undulator  at the BELLA
Center has been commissioned using electron beams of 400MeV beams with broad energy
spread (35%) . To produce a coherent LPA-based FEL, the beam quality would need to
improve to sub-percent level energy spread. A seed source could be used to help induce
bunching of the electron beam within the undulator.
This thesis described the experimental investigation of the physics of using solid-based
surface high-harmonic generation (SHHG) from a thin tape as a possible seed source for
an FEL. A thin tape placed within centimeters of the undulator's entrance could act as
a harmonic generating source, while simultaneously transmitting an electron beam. This
removes the need for transport optics for the XUV photons and the need for additional
optics to overlap the seed beam with the electron beam at the undulator entrance.
By operating at sub-relativistic laser strengths, harmonics up to the 17th order of 800
nm light are produced using an SHHG technique known as coherent wake emission (CWE).
CWE pulse properties such as divergence, energy, conversion efficiency, and spectrum are
measured for a wide range of tape materials and drive laser conditions. A clear correlation
between surface roughness and harmonic beam divergence is found. The measured pulse
properties for the 15th harmonic from VHS tape (conversion efficiency 6.5x10^-?7 and
an rms divergence of 12 mrad), the 100 mJ-level, 40-50 fs-class drive laser, produces peak
powers of several MW's of XUV pulses. The results of a 1D model indicate that these CWE
pulses with MW level powers are sufficient for seed-induced FEL gain.