A research scientist at the University of Michigan has created what may be the world's most powerful laser beam. The record-setting beam measures 20 billion trillion watts per square centimeter and contains 300 terrawatts of power. That's roughly 300-times the capacity of the US electrical grid. The laser beam's power is concentrated in a 1.3-micron speck that is only about 1/100th the diameter of a human hair.

According to Victor Yanovsky, the scientist who spent the last six years building the ultra-high-power laser system, the pulsed laser beam lasts just 30 femtoseconds, but its intensity is about two orders of magnitude higher than that produced by any other laser in the world. A femtosecond is a millionth of a billionth of a second. The system uses a technique known as chirped pulse amplification, which relies on grooved surfaces called diffraction gratings to stretch a very short duration laser pulse so that it lasts 50,000 times longer. This stretched pulse can then be amplified to much higher energy without damaging the optics in its path.

Aside from the potential medical applications, which include cancer treatment, extreme intensity laser beams could one day lead to potential applications in inertial confinement fusion research, coaxing low-mass atoms to join together into heavier ones, releasing energy in the process.

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