Review of laser-driven ion sources and their applications

Rep Prog Phys. 2012 May;75(5):056401. doi: 10.1088/0034-4885/75/5/056401. Epub 2012 Apr 17.


For many years, laser-driven ion acceleration, mainly proton acceleration, has been proposed and a number of proof-of-principle experiments have been carried out with lasers whose pulse duration was in the nanosecond range. In the 1990s, ion acceleration in a relativistic plasma was demonstrated with ultra-short pulse lasers based on the chirped pulse amplification technique which can provide not only picosecond or femtosecond laser pulse duration, but simultaneously ultra-high peak power of terawatt to petawatt levels. Starting from the year 2000, several groups demonstrated low transverse emittance, tens of MeV proton beams with a conversion efficiency of up to several percent. The laser-accelerated particle beams have a duration of the order of a few picoseconds at the source, an ultra-high peak current and a broad energy spectrum, which make them suitable for many, including several unique, applications. This paper reviews, firstly, the historical background including the early laser-matter interaction studies on energetic ion acceleration relevant to inertial confinement fusion. Secondly, we describe several implemented and proposed mechanisms of proton and/or ion acceleration driven by ultra-short high-intensity lasers. We pay special attention to relatively simple models of several acceleration regimes. The models connect the laser, plasma and proton/ion beam parameters, predicting important features, such as energy spectral shape, optimum conditions and scalings under these conditions for maximum ion energy, conversion efficiency, etc. The models also suggest possible ways to manipulate the proton/ion beams by tailoring the target and irradiation conditions. Thirdly, we review experimental results on proton/ion acceleration, starting with the description of driving lasers. We list experimental results and show general trends of parameter dependences and compare them with the theoretical predictions and simulations. The fourth topic includes a review of scientific, industrial and medical applications of laser-driven proton or ion sources, some of which have already been established, while the others are yet to be demonstrated. In most applications, the laser-driven ion sources are complementary to the conventional accelerators, exhibiting significantly different properties. Finally, we summarize the paper.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Equipment Design
  • Ions*
  • Lasers*
  • Particle Accelerators*


  • Ions