Romanian ‘super-laser’ given EU funding

Written by on September 18, 2012 in Europe, News - No comments

The European Commission said on September 18 that it has approved 180 million euro in funding for a cutting-edge research facility in Romania, dubbed by local media as the “super-laser of Magurele”.

The facility, whose official name is appropriately dry – Extreme Light Infrastructure – Nuclear Physics (ELI-NP) – will involve 40 research and academic institutions from 13 European Union member states (Bulgaria is among them) and will serve as a pan-European laboratory, the European Commission said.

“This is exactly the type of project we want to see more of in the future. It is aimed at boosting research and innovation with a clear EU added value, to ensure that each and every euro is wisely spent,” the EU’s commissioner for regional policy Johannes Hahn said in a statement.

“We have very high hopes for the ELI-NP project. Through it, Romania has a chance to put itself firmly on the map of European research, to retain highly-specialised workers – reversing the ‘brain drain’ and attracting new companies to the region,” he said.

ELI-NP is one part of the “Extreme Light Infrastructure”, identified in 2006 by the European Strategy Forum on Research Infrastructure as one of the top priority projects of research infrastructure for Europe.

The project is the second pillar of a pan-European laser facility, with the European Commission approving 236 million euro in funding for the first ELI pillar in the Czech Republic (ELI-Beamlines), in April 2011. The planned facility in Hungary is called ELI-Attosecond.

Together, the three host countries will form an European research infrastructure consortium, the first pan-European multi-disciplinary network envisioned by the EU to research laser technology. The three lasers in Eastern Europe will be the most powerful ever built, with a power of 10 petawatts (10 billion MW) each, but will focus on different research areas.

A fourth laser, whose location is to be decided this year, will be the most powerful of them all, reaching Death Star-like power levels of 200 petawatts, or 100 000 times the power of the world electric grid. By comparison, the total power of sunlight striking Earth’s atmosphere is estimated at 174 petawatts.

The co-ordinator of the Romanian project, Nicolae Zamfir, told local newspaper Evenimentul Zilei that the tender to pick a construction contractor has drawn the interest of at least 10 local and international companies.

“If there are no legal challenges, we could announce the winner by the end of November and start construction at the start of 2013,” he said. Construction work on the site of Romania’s national institute of physics and nuclear engineering, in Magurele (a southern suburb of Bucharest), is expected to take 20 months.

The facility will employ 200 researchers by 2015, with all spots to be filled as a result of international competition. Romania’s current legislation imposes strict ceilings on salaries of employees in public institutions, but Zamfir said that the institute would ask the cabinet to make an exception for entry-level researchers, “so that everyone involved in this project is paid at a level similar to the large European infrastructures.”

(Conceptual design of the ELI-NP facility outside Bucharest, image credit: extreme-light-infrastructure.eu)

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