Laser pulses into bullets: tabletop shock experiments

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This article discusses tabletop high-throughput laser experiments on shock waves in solids and liquids, where the more usual laser pump pulse is replaced by a 0.5 mm diameter laser-launched bullet, a thin metal disk called a flyer plate. The hypervelocity flyer (up to 6 km s−1 or Mach 18) can have kinetic energy (∼1 J) to briefly produce extreme conditions of temperature and pressure, thousands of K and tens of GPa (1 GPa = 10 000 bar) in a small volume with a rise time <2 ns. The experiments are performed using a “shock compression microscope”, a microscope fitted with the laser flyer launcher plus an optical velocimeter, a high-speed laser interferometer that measures the motion of the flyer plate or the sample material after impact. This makes it possible to generate extreme conditions at the push of a button in an intrinsically safe environment, and probe with any of the diagnostics used in microscope experiments, such as high-speed video, optical emission, nonlinear coherent spectroscopies and so on. The barrier to entering this field is relatively low since many laser laboratories already possess much of the needed instrumentation. A brief introduction to shock waves and instrumentation is presented. Then several examples of recent applications are described, including shocked water, the photophysics of fluorescent molecules under extreme conditions, shocked protein solutions, shocked metal-organic frameworks (MOFs), shocked explosives, chemical catalysis in a shocked liquid, and molecules at shocked interfaces. Since one can shoot a bullet at practically anything, there are many emerging opportunities in chemistry, biophysics, materials science, physics and hypervelocity aerodynamics.

Original languageEnglish (US)
JournalPhysical Chemistry Chemical Physics
StateAccepted/In press - 2022

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Physics and Astronomy
  • Physical and Theoretical Chemistry


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