Other recent experiments include studies of the interaction of one of the most intense lasers in the world, the Vulcan Petawatt laser, with ultra-thin targets of nanometre thickness. In these remarkable, extreme conditions protons and ions can be accelerated up to 10s of MeV per nucleon in accelerating distances of less than a micrometre.

A recent study by the group has demonstrated the formation of Rayleigh-Taylor-like instabilities formed as the ultraintense laser (acting as a ‘light fluid’) exerts its pressure on the plasRayleigh-Taylor-like instabilitiesma (the ‘heavy fluid’). The instability is imprinted on the proton beam, as can be seen in the image to the right.

Instead of a smooth proton beam, characteristic of interactions with thick targets, the instability causes holes to form in the plasma through which the laser can propagate, resulting in the visible bubbly structure.