Optimizing laser-ion acceleration with flat and structured foils
The ability of relativistic laser pulses to accelerate ions from foil targets has long been established. These beams, with their high current density and ultrashort duration, are essential tools in high energy density science and have great promise as an upcoming technology in accelerator physics. To best fulfill their applications, the conversion efficiency of laser to ion energy must be optimized, with the ultimate goal of tunable ion energy, yield, and other beam parameters. The acceleration of both light and heavy ions is of interest, as they each have different uses, such as neutron generation and rare isotope production.Two experiments were carried out at the Texas Petawatt laser facility. The first experiment studied the response of imaging plate detectors to heavy ions, expanding the published literature beyond light ion calibrations. Successful modeling of the imaging plate's response function is essential to determining the absolute number of ions accelerated. A comparison of all published calibrations produces an empirical estimate for ion response for any arbitrary ion as a function of atomic mass. The second experiment investigated ion acceleration from 3D printed targets, whose protruding structure increases laser-target coupling. These structures were of the "microtube" geometry, and are most effective under the right conditions of laser intensity, pulse duration, and energy. These results are then compared to experiments on similar target structures at the PHELIX and ALEPH laser facilities, which also showed enhanced ion production. A numerical study on heavy ion acceleration was also conducted, in an optimization of the generation of multiply charged titanium beams. A thickness scan on submicron targets was executed for two laser pulse lengths to determine the best performing target for each laser. In the relativistically induced transparency regime, we show that collisional ionization cannot be neglected for sufficiently long laser pulses (near picosecond). Identifying this threshold is crucial for balancing the conservation of computational resources with accurate particle-in-cell modeling. This large body of experimental and numerical data continue to support the tremendous progress in short pulse laser-ion acceleration over the course of three decades. Continuing to push the bounds in conversion efficiency and beam control is essential for breaking ground in high energy density physics and accelerator development.