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  1. High-peak-power lasers are fundamental to high-field science: increased laser intensity has enabled laboratory astrophysics, relativistic plasma physics, and compact laser-based particle accelerators. However, the meter-scale optics required for multi-petawatt lasers to avoid light-induced damage make further increases in power challenging. Plasma tolerates orders-of-magnitude higher light flux than glass, but previous efforts to miniaturize lasers by constructing plasma analogs for conventional optics were limited by low efficiency and poor optical quality. We describe a new approach to plasma optics based on avalanche ionization of atomic clusters that produces plasma volume transmission gratings with dramatically increased diffraction efficiency. We measure an average efficiency of up to 36% and a single-shot efficiency of up to 60%, which is comparable to key components of high-power laser beamlines, while maintaining high spatial quality and focusability. These results suggest that plasma diffraction gratings may be a viable component of future lasers with peak power beyond 10 PW.

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  2. The effect of realistic atmospheric conditions on mid-IR (λ = 3.9 µm) and long-wave-IR (λ = 10 µm) laser-induced avalanche breakdown for the remote detection of radioactive material is examined experimentally and with propagation simulations. Our short-range in-lab mid-IR laser experiments show a correlation between increasing turbulence level and a reduced number of breakdown sites associated with a reduction in the portion of the focal volume above the breakdown threshold. Simulations of propagation through turbulence are in excellent agreement with these measurements and provide code validation. We then simulate propagation through realistic atmospheric turbulence over a long range (0.1–1 km) in the long-wave-IR regime (λ = 10 µm). The avalanche threshold focal volume is found to be robust even in the presence of strong turbulence, only dropping by ∼50% over a propagation length of ∼0.6 km. We also experimentally assess the impact of aerosols on avalanche-based detection, finding that, while background counts increase, a useful signal is extractable even at aerosol concentrations 105times greater than what is typically observed in atmospheric conditions. Our results show promise for the long-range detection of radioactive sources under realistic atmospheric conditions.

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  3. We present results from two new techniques for the generation of meter-scale, low density (∼1017 cm−3 on axis) plasma waveguides, the “two-Bessel” technique, and the “self-waveguiding” technique. Plasma waveguides of this density and length range are needed for demonstration of a ∼10 GeV laser wakefield accelerator module, key for future staging for a ∼TeV lepton collider. Both techniques require the use of high quality ultrashort pulse Bessel beams to efficiently and uniformly ionize hydrogen gas in meter-scale supersonic gas jets via optical field ionization. We review these two techniques, describe our meter-scale gas jets, and present a new method for correction of optical aberrations in Bessel beams. Finally, we briefly present results from recent experiments employing one of our techniques, demonstrating quasi-monoenergetic acceleration of ∼5 GeV electron bunches in 20 cm long, low density plasma waveguides. 
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  4. We investigated the filamentation in air of 7 ps laser pulses of up to 200 mJ energy from a 1.03 μm-wavelength Yb:YAG laser at repetition rates up tof=1kHz. Interferograms of the wake generated show that while pulses in a train of repetition ratef=0.1kHzencounter a nearly unperturbed environment, atf=1kHz, a channel with an axial air density hole of∼<#comment/>20%<#comment/>is generated and maintained at all times by the cumulative effect of preceding laser pulses. Measurements atf=1kHzshow that the energy deposited decreases proportional to the air channel density depletion, becoming more pronounced as the repetition rate and pulse energy increase. Numerical simulations indicate that contrary to filaments generated by shorter duration pulses, the electron avalanche is the dominant energy loss mechanism during filamentation with 7 ps pulses. The results are of interest for the atmospheric propagation of joule-level picosecond pulses from Yb:YAG lasers, of which average powers now surpass 1 kW, and for channeling other directed energy beams.

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  6. A spatiotemporal optical vortex (STOV) is an intrinsic optical orbital angular momentum (OAM) structure in which the OAM vector is orthogonal to the propagation direction [Optica6,1547(2019)OPTIC82334-253610.1364/OPTICA.6.001547] and the optical phase circulates in space-time. Here, we experimentally and theoretically demonstrate the generation of the second harmonic of a STOV-carrying pulse along with the conservation of STOV-based OAM. Our experiments verify that photons can have intrinsic orbital angular momentum perpendicular to their propagation direction.

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  7. We present a technique for the single-shot measurement of the spatiotemporal (1Dspace+time) amplitude and phase of an ultrashort laser pulse. The method, transient grating single-shot supercontinuum spectral interferometry (TG-SSSI), is demonstrated by the space–time imaging of short pulses carrying spatiotemporal optical vortices. TG-SSSI is well suited for characterizing ultrashort laser pulses that contain singularities associated with spin/orbital angular momentum or polarization.

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