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Kiefer, Daniel (2012): Relativistic electron mirrors from high intensity laser nanofoil interactions. Dissertation, LMU München: Faculty of Physics



The reflection of a laser pulse from a mirror moving close to the speed of light could in principle create an X-ray pulse with unprecedented high brightness owing to the increase in photon energy and accompanying temporal compression by a factor of $4\gamma^2$, where $\gamma$ is the Lorentz factor of the mirror. While this scheme is theoretically intriguingly simple and was first discussed by A. Einstein more than a century ago, the generation of a relativistic structure which acts as a mirror is demanding in many different aspects. Recently, the interaction of a high intensity laser pulse with a nanometer thin foil has raised great interest as it promises the creation of a dense, attosecond short, relativistic electron bunch capable of forming a mirror structure that scatters counter-propagating light coherently and shifts its frequency to higher photon energies. However, so far, this novel concept has been discussed only in theoretical studies using highly idealized interaction parameters. This thesis investigates the generation of a relativistic electron mirror from a nanometer foil with current state-of-the-art high intensity laser pulses and demonstrates for the first time the reflection from those structures in an experiment. To achieve this result, the electron acceleration from high intensity laser nanometer foil interactions was studied in a series of experiments using three inherently different high power laser systems and free-standing foils as thin as 3nm. A drastic increase in the electron energies was observed when reducing the target thickness from the micrometer to the nanometer scale. Quasi-monoenergetic electron beams were measured for the first time from ultrathin ($\leq$5nm) foils, reaching energies up to ~35MeV. The acceleration process was studied in simulations well-adapted to the experiments, indicating the transition from plasma to free electron dynamics as the target thickness is reduced to the few nanometer range. The experience gained from those studies allowed proceeding to the central goal, the demonstration of the relativistically flying mirror, which was achieved at the Astra Gemini dual beam laser facility. In this experiment, a frequency shift in the backscatter signal from the visible (800nm) to the extreme ultraviolet (~60nm) was observed when irradiating the interaction region with a counter-propagating probe pulse simultaneously. Complementary to the experimental observations, a detailed numerical study on the dual beam interaction is presented, explaining the mirror formation and reflection process in great depth, indicating a $>10^4$ fold increase in the backscatter efficiency as compared to the expected incoherent signal. The simulations show that the created electron mirrors propagate freely at relativistic velocities while reflecting off the counter-propagating laser, thereby truly acting like the relativistic mirror first discussed in Einstein's thought experiment. The reported work gives an intriguing insight into the electron dynamics in high intensity laser nanofoil interactions and constitutes a major step towards the coherent backscattering from a relativistic electron mirror of solid density, which could potentially generate bright bursts of X-rays on a micro-scale.