Romania abandons the high-power laser project. Czech researchers test lasers at Europe’s Extreme Light Infrastructure. The € 950 million Extreme Light Infrastructure (ELI), which is taking shape in the Czech Republic, Hungary and Romania, will provide scientists with some of the most powerful lasers on the planet, potentially leading to breakthroughs in everything from cancer therapy to nuclear therapy. Research on the promotion of waste in some of the poorest regions of Europe.
Romania abandons the high-power
This took another step forward on April 30 when the European Commission approved the transfer of control from the Confederation of National Initiatives to a single international umbrella to the European Research Infrastructure Consortium (ERIC). But Romania has been left in the rain: after a dispute over the central gamma-ray source of its facilities, it was removed from the ERIC. And the two wealthy ELI members, France and the UK, have left, leaving a smaller and less financially secure club.
ELI was first proposed by Gérard Mourou, a physicist at the Polytechnique school near Paris, who won the Nobel Prize for his methods of compressing laser beams into short pulses of astonishing power. In 2009, three Eastern European countries were chosen as hosts because they could attract “structural funds” from the EU, which are often used by poor EU members for infrastructure such as roads and bridges.
The project is going well. On the ELI beamline near Prague, researchers have launched the first experiments with lasers that will reach a power of up to 10 petawatts, producing X-rays and ions for use in materials science, astrophysics and biomedicine. In southern Hungary, the ELI Attosecond Light Pulse Source (ELI-ALPS) will cut the laser into short pulses to track the movement of electrons in atoms and molecules.
and ELI Nuclear Physics (ELI-NP), outside Bucharest, Romania, to generate intense beams of gamma rays, which combined with light from two 10-petawatt lasers will probe atomic nuclei and the quantum vacuum. Eurogamas, a consortium of public research and industry institutions, gave ELI-NP a much higher gamma-ray source in 2018, but said the lab floor was uneven and refused to install the components.
ELINP managers insisted that the flat was okay and fined EuroGammaS for its delay, which the union challenged in court in October 2018. A month later, ELI-NP canceled its € 67 million contract with EuroGammaS and then hired an American company, Lyncean Technologies. Do it EuroGammaS went back to court to reinstate its contract.
ELI Director General Alan Weeks notes that some members of EuroGammaS, such as Italy’s National Institute of Nuclear Physics (INFN), are also part of ELI, creating unprecedented internal conflict. “I don’t recall the member institutions taking others to court.” Weeks says that fearing the controversy would alienate other members, the ELI Governing Assembly decided in March 2019 to go ahead with an ERIC only for ELI-Beamlines and ELI-ALPS.
Romania abandons the high-power
However, this was not enough to keep France in the Union. Weeks says his departure in the summer of 2019 was a particular disappointment. “People really hoped that France would not only be in, but that it would carry on anyway.” The UK followed suit in November 2020. ERIC now has only four members.
The Czech Republic, Hungary, Italy and Lithuania (Germany and Bulgaria join as observers). Ultimately, it will be necessary to attract other members to contribute to the operating costs. “It is not sustainable for host countries to provide 100% of the funding, which is clear,” says Roman Hvazda, project manager at ELI-Beamlines.
Despite the ill will on the matter, which the Romanian Academy described in May 2020 as “concrete action to smear Romania”, Weeks hopes the country will eventually become a member. But other ERIC nations have conditions; In June 2020, they issued a statement in which they stated that ELINP management must “demonstrate good faith cooperation and ability to manage an international facility in a transparent and verifiable manner.”
Some Romanian researchers are disappointed. Jorge Aprescu, laser physicist at the National Institute of Laser, Plasma and Radiation Physics, criticizes Víctor Zamfir, former director of ELI-NP. Apreescu accused him of using the delay with the gamma source as a way to gain more power over the center and its finances. Zamfir, who was removed from the ELI-NP in August 2020 by the Romanian research minister, did not answer questions about science.
The ongoing unrest raises doubts that the ELI-NP will open as scheduled for late 2023, as determined by its funding from the EU. In a 2020 statement, European Commissioner for Reconciliation and Reform, Alyssa Ferreira, said the EU could “reform financial” if the lab could not meet the deadline. Apreescu says this will be difficult given the shortage of trained laser physicists in the country.
Others are concerned about Lyncean’s ability to emit a gamma-ray source. Unlike EuroGammaS, it has yet to publish any peer-reviewed articles on the source, says Luca Serafini, an INFN nuclear physicist who was part of EuroGammaS. “It is not in the mainstream scientific mainstream.”
Lyncean product manager Benjamin Hornberger says the company is confident it will be able to deliver the source in early 2023, although delays from the pandemic have led to a “tight project schedule.” It would be a huge disappointment if ELINP lacks a gamma source to be its source. But Weeks believes the center can conduct meaningful research even without it. In the end, he says, It’s too big to fail.
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