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The US is all set to kick off a new era in high-powered laser experimentation this week, with scientists moving the final pieces into place for the Zetawatt-Equivalent Ultrashort pulse laser System (ZEUS) at the University of Michigan. The instrument is described as the most powerful laser system in the US, and will help researchers explore a wide range of phenomena, including quantum physics, space and next-generation cancer treatment.

ZEUS is the successor to 0.5-Petawatt Hercules laser at the University of Michigan, the instrument behind the Highest Intensity Focused Laser as crowned by the Guinness Book of Records in 2008. While it will have a maximum power of 3 Petawatts, ZEUS is designed to simulate a beam roughly a million times more powerful than that by shooting its laser at a high-energy electron beam going the opposite way.

Deploying ZEUS’s full power in this way will simulate a zetawatt laser pulse, which will enable scientists to study extreme plasmas and investigate what’s known as quantum electrodynamics. This is the leading theory on how the universe functions at a subatomic level and the experiments could lead to the creation of matter and antimatter that help explain the foundations of some of space’s most extreme objects.

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