Pudong New Area drives key technological breakthroughs with large-scale scientific facilities

Shanghai Superintense Ultrafast Laser Facility
Photo shows the hall of the building of the Shanghai Superintense Ultrafast Laser Facility (SULF). (Photo/Official Weibo account of Information Office of Shanghai Municipality)

By Ji Juesu, Xie Weiqun

At a lab in the Zhangjiang Hi-Tech Park, Pudong New Area of Shanghai, a superintense ultrafast laser facility called “Xihe” is busy performing experiments on proton and electron acceleration and the generation of plasma ultraharmonics and attosecond pulses.

As one of the first batch of major projects launched by Shanghai for building a sci-tech innovation center with global influence and a world-class sci-tech infrastructure cluster, the scientific facility, officially known as Shanghai Superintense Ultrafast Laser Facility (SULF), serves as an important platform of the Zhangjiang Comprehensive National Science Center in Pudong New Area as well as a powerful scientific tool of China.

The key of self-dependent innovation lies in original inventions, which require new discoveries and breakthroughs in basic science and depend on the support of large scientific facilities like the Xihe laser facility, according to an official with Shanghai office for promoting the construction of sci-tech innovation center.

On Oct. 24, 2017, Xihe laser facility, which was still under construction, achieved 10.3 PW laser amplification output, breaking the record of 10 PW in photon research. On Dec. 7, 2019, the equipment saw its average peak power reach 11.7 PW and its output peak at 12.9 PW.

According to researchers, the output power of the laser facility is equivalent to the total solar radiation from 10 suns to the Earth gathered together on a single human hair.

On July 22 this year, the research result of smaller free-electron lasers made by the State Key Laboratory of High Field Laser Physics of China based on the Xihe laser facility was published in Nature, world’s leading multidisciplinary science journal, as the cover story.

Peer-reviewed academic journal Science referred to the SULF as the world’s fifth milestone achievement in increasing laser pulse power since the first laser was invented in 1960.

The Xihe laser facility is expected to detect and form images of the motion of active constituents of organisms and help uncover the mystery of life, promote the research and development of laser proton knife for cancer treatment, generate antimatter for research into the origins of astrophysics and the universe, said Leng Yuxin, deputy director of the Shanghai Institute of Optics and Fine Mechanics under the Chinese Academy of Sciences, legal entity of the SULF.

Pudong New Area is building a cluster of such large scientific facilities. It has 10 large scientific facilities already completed or under construction. During the first half of this year, its soft X-ray project achieved optical amplification of free-electron lasers at a wavelength of 2 nanometers, and its hard X-ray project completed the assembly of the first set of superconducting accelerator modules.

Meanwhile, the area is actively planning the construction of a new batch of sci-tech infrastructure projects, which will attract various innovators and infuse new impetus into innovation in the area. Pudong New Area plans to put into trial operation the Tsung-Dao Lee Institute this year, complete the construction of the Zhangjiang Institute for Advanced Study under the Shanghai Jiao Tong University by the end of the year, and push forward with other key projects including the Shanghai processor technology innovation center, Shanghai Institute for Advanced Study under the Zhejiang University, and the natural killer cell functional platform of the University of Science and Technology of China.

Pudong New Area will also carry out many sci-tech projects for original innovation, according to a guideline jointly issued by the Communist Party of China Central Committee and the State Council of China on supporting Pudong New Area in advancing high-level reform and opening-up and growing into a pioneer area for socialist modernization.

The area will make efforts to promote the implementation of innovation platforms for the opening-up of computing capabilities on a super-large scale and the research and development and application of intelligent vehicles, actively organize and participate in major international scientific plans and projects, and carry out global collaborative sci-tech innovation.

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