After five years of work, ENSURE, an ERC H2020 project (Grant Agreement 647554) developed at the Department of Energy of Politecnico di Milano, has achieved its main goal: to control and optimise an unconventional technique of particle acceleration by irradiating nanostructured materials with innovative properties using super-intense and ultra-short laser pulses.
The project’s conclusion was crowned by the publication of the article “Integrated quantitative PIXE analysis and EDX spectroscopy using a laser-driven particle source” in Science Advances on Friday 15 January 2021.
ENSURE’s approach enables the development of more compact and flexible accelerators, with reduced construction and radiation protection costs, for a variety of applications in different fields. These applications were also investigated by INTER, a second ERC H2020 research project linked to ENSURE.
In addition to their importance for basic science, the most relevant applications include:
· non-invasive analysis of materials of historical/artistic interest, for industrial use and environmental monitoring;
· medical equipment sterilisation;
· production of radioisotopes for medical, diagnostic, and therapeutic use;
· radiography of containers in transit areas such as customs and airports.
In cultural heritage fields, a painting’s composition could be determined by analysing the properties of the materials used to make it. This can be done by irradiating the analysed object with particles accelerated by super-intense lasers and measuring the secondary radiation emitted upon the irradiation. The Science Advances article demonstrated the feasibility of this type of application, thanks to the ENSURE group's partnership with the team at the Centro De Láseres Pulsados in Salamanca, Spain.
In addition to the research results, ENSURE has achieved other important goals. Politecnico di Milano has equipped itself with two new laboratories housing state-of-the-art scientific instruments to produce the non-conventional materials needed to manufacture the irradiated targets. An area of 100 square metres has been set up for two systems to produce nanostructured materials – a femtosecond pulsed laser deposition system and an innovative magnetron sputtering system. This equipment allows to produce materials of scientific interest which can be used in many different fields.
ENSURE has set up a multidisciplinary research group, with expertise in the fields of physics, materials science and nuclear science and technology. The group comprises young researchers whose work has attracted the attention of the international scientific community and enhances the University's expertise in these research areas.
Matteo Passoni, full professor in Theoretical Physics of Matter who oversees the project and research described in the article said:
The research into the acceleration process that we have theoretically and experimentally investigated has produced positive results. We have produced materials with unusual properties, such as extremely low-density nanostructured carbon foams, which can make the acceleration process more efficient. We have shown that results can be improved by focusing not only on the lasers but also on the irradiated materials which is a technologically cheaper and simpler method. In addition, we have started experimenting with some important applications, with promising results.
Over the years, about ten young Italian researchers have worked with me at Politecnico, and research has led to important partnerships with excellent national and international industrial, research and academic organisations.
This article was first published by Politecnico di Milano.