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First academics granted access to Orion

A significant benefit to the UK is that Orion, with Ministry of Defence support, is providing up to 15% of its system time for the use of the UK academic community.

Access to Orion provides the UK academic community with both the use of a world-leading facility and a significant opportunity to encourage and excite a new generation of physicists both nationally and internationally.

Following a call for proposals for access to Orion system time through the Central Laser Facility, two proposals were successful:

  • Quasi-Isentropic Compression: A route to solid matter at multi-megabar pressures by Dr Andy Higginbotham of University of Oxford with collaboration from Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL) and AWE;
  •  High-Energy Density Laboratory accretion shock in magnetic cataclysmic variables by Professor Gianluca Gregori of the University of Oxford with collaboration from France and the USA. 

Professor Gianluca Gregori said:

“While this type of work was previously available only on large US facilities, the Orion laser has now the potential of changing the scientific landscape, giving the UK a leading facility for laboratory astrophysics experiments.”

Dr Andy Higginbotham said:

“The provision of academic access time on Orion provides a host of new opportunities for the UK high-energy-density community. The implications for planetary and materials science are considerable, and we look forward to further exploring these with our AWE and LLNL colleagues.”

Orion’s first academic access campaigns, which started in Autumn 2013, were awarded to groups from the University of Oxford. The campaign led by Professor Gianluca Gregori had astrophysical relevance in studying supersonic plasma interactions such as those found between binary stars. The international experimental team had collaborators from the University of York; University of Michigan, USA; LULI, Ecole Polytechnique, France; Observatoire de Paris, France; and CEA; France. The experiment was coordinated by AWE’s Professor John Foster, the internal Principal Investigator for the campaign. 

The primary aim of this experiment was to simulate an astrophysical system where matter flows from a large, main sequence star to a smaller, highly-magnetised white dwarf. These binary systems differ from standard accretion systems because of the strong magnetic field which alters the normal flow of material between the two stars. Material from the main sequence star flows along the field lines and impacts upon the poles of the white dwarf in an accretion column. As the plasma impacts onto the surface of the white dwarf, the flow is reflected up along the magnetic field lines, eventually steepening into a shock. It is this reverse, potentially radiative, shock that we were trying to diagnose in this experiment.

Forty-nine good data shots were fired delivering a very successful first campaign. Being the first academic users at Orion there were questions as to whether the planned experiments would be able to deliver all the projected outputs. It turned out that those concerns were entirely unfounded and the Orion facility exceeded all expectations. 

Gianluca said after the campaign:

“In my opinion, Orion is one of the best laser facilities in Europe; it is highly versatile, with a large amount of energy delivered on target with exceptional support for laser and plasma diagnostics. I would be delighted to see the Orion laser grow as a point of reference for laboratory astrophysics experiments for the UK academic community. We would definitely hope to use the Orion laser in the future to recreate cosmic events in the laboratory.” 

Access to Orion provides the UK academic community with both the use of a world-class facility and a significant opportunity to encourage and excite a new generation of physicists.