LOA is a joint research unit (UMR) CNRS – Ecole Polytechnique (EP) – ENSTA-Paristech. It is hosted at the Palaiseau-Yvette research centre of ENSTA-ParisTech inside the campus of Ecole Polytechnique. LOA was created in 1972 from a research team « Studies of lasers and their applications » established in 1960 thanks to a Chair of Physics at the Ecole Polytechnique. Associated with INSERM in 1984 (U 275), and with CNRS in 1989 (URA 1406), the LOA became an UMR in 1997. It gathers 80 to 90 people among which 50% are permanent staff and 25% are permanent researchers. Its annual running budget is about 6 M€ full cost.

Intense femtosecond laser amplification stage

LOA has played a pioneering role in the development of ultrafast laser-plasma science. In the early 1980s, it became the French precursor in the development of ultrafast lasers and their first applications. It is one of the very first laboratories to have successfully developed a laser with femtosecond pulse duration. These new light sources allowed LOA researchers to quickly launch the first applications in this emerging ultrafast science, particularly for the study of ultrafast phenomena in solid state physics. Thanks to the research support actions of the European Community, the laboratory was funded to develop an intense femtosecond laser source for the study of atoms subjected to intense electromagnetic fields (“Stimulation for Science” program). This was the start in the early 1990s of a continuous increase of laser energies, and a jump of several orders of magnitude for femtosecond laser intensities available on target compared to the existing systems worldwide. This launches a whole new set of LOA research topics with the creation of new research teams during the following years, all related to laser-plasma physics, ultrafast non-linear optics and the generation of innovative ultrafast and intense laser-based particle and radiation sources. It has also immediately provided now almost 30 years of leading activities in these research areas and a series of uninterrupted scientific breakthroughs in line with the longstanding tradition of LOA to tackle scientific problems ranging from curiosity-driven basic laser-plasma science to challenges related to interdisciplinary applications. As few examples:

  • The first X-ray source with femtosecond pulse duration (Phys. Rev. E 1994, Nature 1998)
  • The direct observation of atomic movements at their characteristic femtosecond time scale (Nature 1997, Nature 2001, Rev. Mod. Phys. 2001)
  • The generation of filaments over long distances in air (Science 2003)
  • The first amplified injected laser in the XUV spectral range (Nature 2004)
  • The electron acceleration by laser fields and the creation of femtosecond electron beams (Science 2002, Nature 2004, Nature 2006)
  • The firsts collimated X-ray sources from laser-produced plasmas (Phys. Rev. Lett. 2004, Nature Photonics 2012)
  • The attosecond control of plasmas (Nature Physics 2012, Nature photonics 2012)
  • The acceleration of positrons from plasmas (Nature 2015)
  • The generation of femtosecond laser-based X-ray lasers (Nature photonics 2015)
  • The vacuum laser acceleration of relativistic electron beams (Nature physics 2015)
  • The demonstration of high repetition rate laser-plasma accelerators (Nature photonics 2017)
  • The production of stable femtosecond X-ray source from laser-plasmas (Light 2017).

Publications of our research in high-ranked journals is one of the indicators that illustrates the laboratory recognition at the national and international levels. 18 % of the research articles are published in the top 1 % journals by SJR (Scientific Journal Rankings) and 40 % in the top 5%. The laboratory has published 239 research articles (RICL) since 2013, and the number of citations per year has increased by 15 % and reached an average of 3200 in 2017. This gives a quite efficient visibility of our work in the community and for our funding agencies.

Femtosecond compressor of the 120 TW Salle Jaune laser system

The early partnership with European institutions has set LOA as an active partner to promote the field. In 1992, LOA became a European pole of excellence in the field of intense femtosecond lasers and ultrafast phenomena, being selected in the “Human Capital and Mobility” program. This position was confirmed in 1996 as part of the first European laser program (“Lasernet” that has later given birth to “LaserLab”) which included the 5 major European laser infrastructures. The LOA is still part of this program, which has been extended to many other partners and has now entered its fourth phase of scientific cooperation. LaserLab now brings together 33 leading institutions in laser-based inter-disciplinary research from 16 countries. Throughout the years, and in parallel of key partnerships in all major national programs like recently the two French “Equipement d’Excellence” CILEX and ATTOLAB from the national Investissement d’Avenir program, LOA has participated actively in steering by taking part of several Boards and developing joint research activities as well as transnational access to the laser installations with the aim of reinforcing the national and European leadership in laser-plasma research and applications.

The Laboratoire d’Optique Appliquée (LOA) has now the mission to advance knowledge and educate students in ultrafast laser-produced plasmas physics, and other related issues that will best serve academic, societal and industrial applications. We seek to develop, in each team of the LOA research centre, carefully chosen and cutting-edge advanced programs with the ability and passion to work wisely, creatively, and effectively for the settlement of a bridge between academic laser-plasmas physics and societal needs.

PhD thesis award ceremony for LOA students