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The Integrated Initiative of European Laser Research Infrastructures II

Periodic Report Summary 1 - LASERLAB-EUROPE (The integrated initiative of European laser research infrastructures II)

Project context and objectives:

1.1 Project context and objectives
The overall objectives of LASERLAB-EUROPE aim at structuring and increasing the European basis of laser RIs, reaching out to new members states and new scientific communities, tackling the most important scientific challenges in laser research, and supporting the user community through a highly coordinated and quality-controlled access programme. Networking, Joint research activities (JRA) and access play hand in hand towards the objective of structuring the European basis of laser RIs and their operation, with the balance between competition and cooperation being one of the most efficient structuring elements. This is, e.g. one of the ideas behind LASERLAB-EUROPE's 'dynamic access policy, continuously forcing the host infrastructures towards uniqueness at the European level, otherwise not necessarily part of their national missions. Similarly, the five new JRA activities comprise the leading European stakeholders from the most competitive research areas of actual relevance, drawing a surprising amount of synergies from comparably small supplementary JRA funds. Finally, a proven set of networking activities, including the 'virtual infrastructure development', user relations and training, access management, scientific and technological exchanges, foresight activities and external relation complement the inventory of RI structuring tools.

LASERLAB-EUROPE members, contractors and sub-contractors, now represent 17 European countries, compared to only nine in Sixth Framework Programme (FP6), including existing and emerging RIs from new and/or previously not participating European Union (EU) Member States and matching the geographic distribution of the scientific community and. A special networking activity WP8, 'Support for staircase of excellence', has been set up to foster the development and inter-linking of RIs and user communities especially from the Baltic, eastern European and Iberian regions.

Project results:
1.2 Project activities and main results
1.2.1 Networking activities
Networking activities play a vital structuring effect in the LASERLAB-EUROPE Consortium, particularly after the substantial increase in the number of partners within the present FP7 project. The eight networking work packages may be grouped into three strategic areas, including external and internal communication and scientific information exchange, user-oriented activities, and strategy and foresight issues. In particular, they comprise:

Organised tools and programmes for inner and outer communication and information exchange:
- WP2 'Extended virtual laser infrastructure' comprising the project's Information technology (IT) services with the joint web presence based on a new content management system and the online access proposal management system, common for all access providing facilities;
- WP3 'Publicity and dissemination' which aims to broadly promote the achievements and opportunities offered by LASERLAB-EUROPE, e.g. by publishing and presenting information material such as the highly appreciated LASERLAB newsletter with three issues published during the first 18 months of the project duration; and
- WP4 'Scientific and technological exchanges' fosters a collaborative research among all LASERLAB-EUROPE partners. Structured programmes of scientific and technical exchanges on relevant frontiers in laser infrastructures comprise two thematic networks on ultra-high intensity ultra-short lasers (NAUUL) and high-energy lasers (NAHEL) related to new national infrastructure projects launched in Europe. The networks held regular meetings, either related to a large international workshop such as 'Endeavours of the petawatt', Salamanca, Spain, or as annual network meeting. A workshop on European target fabrication served as platform for the exchange of know-how and catalyst for collaborations to solve technological challenges.

Dialogue with users, management of access and quality control of the access activities:
- WP5 'User training' helps to increase the user community and reach new scientific sub-communities in a cross-disciplinary perspective. Two training schools for potential users were organised: A Baltic/Northern Europe training school in Riga, Latvia with a focus on laser applications in spectroscopy, technology and medicine was held in conjunction with the sixth international student conference on Developments in optics and communications (DOC) and attracted 49 attendees; and a training workshop on high-power Laser Facilities in Salamanca, Spain with more than 30 participants. For the user training for advanced optical techniques in bio-imaging and bioprocessing, related to the JRA OPTBIO and subcontracted to CLLC in Coimbra, Portugal, two calls were published during the first 18 months period resulting in the execution of four short-term training visits.
- WP6 'Access management and monitoring infrastructures - users connections' allows to optimise the service to the user community through a joint management and monitoring of the access activities with strong involvement of user representatives. Access to the LASERLAB RIs is provided in a highly coordinated way which provides the flexibility to respond to user needs and new developments and ensures the full availability of the best European resources for the user community. The consortium-wide unified access policy comprises a web-based application process for projects, a common, fully external selection panel with an associated pool of more than 100 international referees and a dynamic access allocation taking account of fluctuations in the users' demand.

Amongst the further actions are annual user meetings with the first LASERLAB user meeting in February 2010 in Paris, France which gathered 43 participants and was oriented towards new partners to disseminate access opportunities. In addition, users' feedback is collected regularly through a user questionnaire which users are asked to complete after finalising their access projects, and through surveys on user needs and gender issues which have been distributed at user meetings.

Strategic issues concerning laser infrastructures and research within the European Research Area (ERA):
- WP7 'Foresight activities' is a 'think-tank' activity on strategic scientific issues. A foresight workshop on 'Future challenges for the European laser community: I3's, pan-European research infrastructures and human resources' was organised in May 2010 at ICFO, Barcelona, gathering LASERLAB-EUROPE partners, representatives from ELI and HIPER, the European Technology Platform Photonics21 and industry.
- WP8 'Networking support for staircase of excellence' aims at the organisation of an official network of National Contact Points that will both represent LASERLAB-EUROPE, and receive support to extend Laser infrastructures to the whole EU27 area. Following the preparation and discussion of individual activities, the first NCP meeting is scheduled for January 2011.
- WP9 'Relations with non-European laser networks' facilitates strategic discussions and support programs on a world scale by interaction with networks representing other global regions and laser-related international organisations. Contacts are established with two African laser networks and, in view of the links of several partners with Latin America, LASERLAB participated in the Latin laser Lab (L3) meeting in November 2010 in Salamanca, Spain. LASERLAB cooperates in ICUIL, the international committee on ultra-high intensity lasers, and in ICFA, the international committee on future accelerators. In addition, LASERLAB contributed to an international workshop on high-energy class diode pumped solid state lasers, held in September 2010 in Versailles, France.

1.2.2 Transnational access activities
One objective of LASERLAB-EUROPE is to combine the capabilities of the leading European laser Infrastructures to offer European scientists access to an integrated infrastructure whose technical capability and expertise have no counterpart world-wide. For the laser community, access is not the way to perform the bulk of research, but the top few percent of experiments which can only be done at truly unique facilities, frequently the ultimate prototype systems, giving the decisive advantage in the global competition. The concept of supporting the user community through a highly coordinated and quality-controlled access implementation has a strong tradition in LASERLAB-EUROPE, based on innovative elements like joint proposal application, joint and fully external selection, user involvement, dynamic access allocation and consortium-wide access monitoring and quality control.

The LASERLAB-EUROPE access programme consists in more than three thousand experimental days. It involves 19 research infrastructures, from 10 countries, selected on four criteria: quality of the installations and of research records, experience of providing access to external users, volume of the user demand and overall coherence of the set of infrastructures.

During the first reporting period, more than 1000 experimental days have been provided to 223 users. Incidentally, during this period several facilities encountered some specific operational anomalies such as major upgrades or unexpected technical problems. However, due to the dynamic access allocation a flexible readjustment of the overall access offer was possible resulting in an increased access provision during the second year. This example demonstrates the value of the highly coordinated, network-wide and flexible implementation of the access programme within LASERLAB-EUROPE.

1.2.3 Joint research activities
The objectives of tackling the most important scientific challenges in laser research and, at the same time, reaching out to new scientific communities are met through five JRAs, including one from life sciences. These JRAs react to the latest global trends in laser science and are meant to substantiate LASERLAB-EUROPE's self-chosen role as the central place in Europe where the latest developments in laser research, of relevance to science, life sciences and society as a whole, will be tackled beyond the national scale, thus contributing towards the development of the world's first international laser projects ELI and HIPER. Attosecond science points towards the tracking in real time of electronic motion in atoms, molecules and solids. This primarily relies on fully-controlled laser and attosecond secondary sources from nonlinear up-conversion. In the JRA ALADIN, synthesis and characterisation of this 'magic light' - from infrared (IR) to Extreme ultraviolet radiation (XUV) and soft X-rays - will be substantially improved and disseminated within the consortium, providing a new standard for users. Studies exploiting the ultra-high resolution in time- and frequency-domain will be extended to chemistry and biology.

Ultraviolet and X-rays are the light of micro and nanotechnologies and sciences, and of structural research in biological molecules. Today, laser-based sources and accelerator-based sources (such as FELs) turn out to be complementary, opening new synergies between previously disparate areas, and transfer of methods like pulse metrology and seeding. Table-top soft X-ray lasers developed in the JRA SFINX will, after long maturation, exploit this complementarity and provide competitive performances in pulse energy output and control. New steps towards keV photon energy, few femtosecond pulse duration and high repetition rate are addressed. In addition seeding by an external source appears very promising for both X-ray lasers and FEL.

Laser particle acceleration (electrons and ions) has now emerged as a new field of considerable interest. The JRA LAPTECH is structured to reach ambitious performances of the electron beams (shortness, brightness, spatial quality), and drive applications in many fields, including medicine (radiotherapy), radiobiology (short-time-scale, low dose irradiation), chemistry (radiolysis), physics and material science (radiography, electron and photon diffraction), security (material inspection), and of course accelerator science. Laser acceleration coupled to FEL, envisaged in LAPTECH, should have as well a deep impact on future soft X-ray coherent sources.

Plasma physics on high energy lasers is a key science of fundamental and applied relevance for Europe, where concerted efforts are obviously required. The interaction of a high-power laser with matter creates truly extreme conditions, leading also to exotic phenomena, with potentially ground breaking applications. As a step forwards, the JRA HAPPIE will aim at implementing new techniques on existing high energy facilities to considerably increase energy and repetition rates.

Biology gives one of the best examples of how relevant, accurate and varied laser tools can be, to handle, to excite and to probe samples. The demand and interest from the biomedical community for applying these tools and develop new ones, to address open scientific issues and questions, is continuously growing. The JRA OPTBIO is answering to an increasing request coming from molecular and cell biology for the visualisation and manipulation of single molecules and cells and for the development of tools for imaging biological processes in living animals. A high demand is also rising from medicine for the characterisation of living tissues, and for disease diagnosis and therapy, providing access to the biomedical community to state-of-the-art instruments.

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