LAPLACE, France's first plasma laser acceleration center, located at the ENSTA Paris Yvette Center, is one of 27 projects in the Paris region selected, with a budget of €59 million dedicated to scientific equipment and technology platforms.
Structured around the Applied Optics Laboratory (ENSTA Paris, École Polytechnique, CNRS - National Center for Scientific Research) in partnership with Synchrotron SOLEIL, Thales and Institut Curie, LAPLACE is an ambitious scientific and technological project of the Institut Polytechnique de Paris to strengthen the French leadership in the field of particle acceleration by laser.
For what applications? The most obvious application is radiography, particularly in the field of non-destructive testing. The particle packets supplied by laser-plasma sources are about one micron in diameter. This small size makes it possible to probe at high resolution mechanical parts that are crucial for the nuclear industry or for air safety, such as landing gear, and to detect the beginnings of cracks of the order of 100 microns, a size 10 times smaller than the detection limits of current equipment. When combined with the high throughput, these advantages represent a significant industrial breakthrough that will reduce imaging and analysis times, improve image quality and broaden the range of objects that can be inspected.
Another field that would benefit enormously from these high-speed sources is the study of innovative materials. The very short pulses, of the order of a few femtoseconds (a few millionths of a billionth of a second), make it possible to see the movements of the atoms inside the material, in the manner of an ultra-fast flash breaking down the different stages of a movement, and thus to better understand the properties of materials.
Finally, one of the fields of application that naturally raises a lot of hope is that of radiotherapy in the context of cancer treatment. Preliminary results seem to indicate that delivering a very high dose of radiation for a very short time, typically what Laplace Haute Cadence is designed for, would allow to specifically target cancer cells while preserving the surrounding healthy cells. However, the biological mechanisms at work are still poorly understood and the exact effects have yet to be confirmed. With its ability to show precisely what is happening at the cellular level, Laplace would be the perfect facility to carry out this research, and ultimately enable the emergence of new protocols for treating cancerous tumors.
The number of research areas that it would be able to advance in leaps and bounds would be a considerable asset for French research and would consolidate the leading position it has held since the 2000s in the field of laser-plasma acceleration.