Eye on Texas: UT-Austin’s Petawatt Laser

Three stories beneath the University of Texas, the Texas Petawatt Laser produces the most powerful laser pulse anywhere in the world.

Texas Petawatt laser, by Robert Shults

In a cavernous complex buried three stories beneath the University of Texas, an almost inconceivable piece of technology known as the Texas Petawatt Laser produces a peak output nearly 2,000 times greater than the capacity of the entire U.S. electrical grid. With this intensely focused beam, an elite company of scientists produces the sort of dense matter found at the center of stars and recreates conditions characteristic of planetary cores. They observe the blast waves of scale supernovae and chart how such forces form galaxies in their wake. In this photograph, physicist Gilliss Dyer and laser technician Ted Borger discuss an experimental configuration of the laser’s target chamber during a recent experiment intended to generate the same neutron fusion reactions that power our sun.

See more of Austin-based photographer Robert Shults’ work at robertshultsphoto.com.

CALL FOR ENTRIES: Seeking Texas-based documentary photography that captures the strangest state. Please send inquiries to [email protected].

NOTICE: This post has been edited to correct an error that appeared in the print edition, which described the Texas Petawatt Laser as “the most powerful laser pulse anywhere in the world” which produces “the brightest known light in the universe.” Those superlatives, which were accurate at the time of Shults’  initial work on the project, have since been surpassed.

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Published at 2:45 pm CST