High-powered laser for scientists

STFC’s Central Laser Facility develops £10 million laser system

Data analytics expert Tessella has helped the UK’s Central Laser Facility (CLF), part of The Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC), in its development of an advanced high-powered laser, created to help aid R&D in the scientific community. CLF was tasked to develop a laser system for the HiLASE research facility and Tessella joined the project to create and build bespoke software to enable control of the laser. Through using innovative design techniques, the resulting product created has all the capabilities of a high-powered laser, while also possessing a high repetition rate that is not typically found in such high-energy models.

The new laser technology for HiLASE, a project in the Czech Republic tagged ‘new lasers for industry and research’, will benefit industry and science in areas ranging from welding to testing the resistance of optical materials. The setup will provide a laser capability considerably more powerful, efficient and stable than current systems across Europe.

Until now there have either been high-energy lasers that are limited to the order of pulses per hour or systems that produce many pulses per second but only at relatively low energy levels. The combination of the two paves the way for a broad field of new applications.

This project is a superb example of the UK’s science capabilities being recognised internationally and leading to other countries’ major science facilities actively seeking to work with the UK. This project showcases not only what the CLF team can currently do but also acknowledges the fact that the possibilities with this new laser and what it could achieve are endless.

The usual control software used in lasers is typically closed and not able to communicate with other parts of the system, leaving users with a collection of devices that require a manual mode of operation. In contrast, for this project one single system was developed that meant that this new connectivity gave access to an entirely new level of automation, which is highly beneficial to users.

Tessella developed complete control system software, allowing scientists to operate the entire laser system and its sub-components remotely via a single integrated software solution. Working with STFC, Tessella implemented high-level automation software aiming for a ‘turn-key’ operation of the laser by integrating all of the low-level devices together into an overarching control solution, including solutions such as automatic beam steering and alignment, timing systems, as well as watchdogs and machine safety software to shut down the laser in case of emergencies or when critical alarms are raised by the sub-systems.

David Michel, software engineer at Tessella explains: “The size and sheer complexity of the system, and the amount of devices to control - such as mirrors and the vast number of cameras ­ means that a highly capable and advanced control system needed to be in place that could unify these different assets and ensure it worked quickly and efficiently.”

Alan Gaby, chief executive at Tessella adds: “Our ethos involves ensuring that we provide a combination of experience and expertise in sector knowledge and technical capability through every member of our team. This laser is truly a one of a kind product, and fascinating because there’s never been anything like it before. We are glad to have been a key part of its development.”

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