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Henig, Andreas (2010): Advanced Approaches to High Intensity Laser-Driven Ion Acceleration. Dissertation, LMU München: Faculty of Physics
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Abstract

Since the pioneering work that was carried out 10 years ago, the generation of highly energetic ion beams from laser-plasma interactions has been investigated in much detail in the regime of target normal sheath acceleration (TNSA). Creation of ion beams with small longitudinal and transverse emittance and energies extending up to tens of MeV fueled visions of compact, laser-driven ion sources for applications such as ion beam therapy of tumors or fast ignition inertial confinement fusion. However, new pathways are of crucial importance to push the current limits of laser-generated ion beams further towards parameters necessary for those applications. The presented PhD work was intended to develop and explore advanced approaches to high intensity laser-driven ion acceleration that reach beyond TNSA. In this spirit, ion acceleration from two novel target systems was investigated, namely mass-limited microspheres and nm-thin, free-standing diamond-like carbon (DLC) foils. Using such ultrathin foils, a new regime of ion acceleration was found where the laser transfers energy to all electrons located within the focal volume. While for TNSA the accelerating electric field is stationary and ion acceleration is spatially separated from laser absorption into electrons, now a localized longitudinal field enhancement is present that co-propagates with the ions as the accompanying laser pulse pushes the electrons forward. Unprecedented maximum ion energies were obtained, reaching beyond 0.5 GeV for carbon C$^{6+}$ and thus exceeding previous TNSA results by about one order of magnitude. When changing the laser polarization to circular, electron heating and expansion were shown to be efficiently suppressed, resulting for the first time in a phase-stable acceleration that is dominated by the laser radiation pressure which led to the observation of a peaked C$^{6+}$ spectrum. Compared to quasi-monoenergetic ion beam generation within the TNSA regime, a more than 40 times increase in conversion efficiency was achieved. The possibility to manipulate the shape of the ion acceleration front was successfully demonstrated by use of a spherically curved target surface. Finally, the last part of the presented work is devoted to accomplishments in laser development.