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CHIPS Articles: Laser Focus: ONR Global and the Competition for High-Intensity Lasers

Laser Focus: ONR Global and the Competition for High-Intensity Lasers
By Warren Duffie Jr., Office of Naval Research - June 4, 2019
ARLINGTON, Va. — In the 1990s, the United States was the leading innovator and dominant user of high-intensity laser technology, according to a 2017 report published by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine.

The successful development of powerful American lasers inspired European governments to cultivate their own laser programs for scientific research, stated the report, commissioned by four U.S. government agencies — including the Office of Naval Research (ONR).

Unfortunately, the U.S. didn’t keep up with the pace of foreign investment over the past two decades, and now most of the world’s high-intensity laser facilities are overseas.

“The Europeans are now the best in the world when it comes to high-intensity lasers,” said Dr. Stephen O’Regan, a science director with ONR Global. “If the U.S. wants to compete and regain its edge, we must engage and partner with the Europeans—collaborating and sharing funding and expertise.”

Developing effective high-energy lasers and directed-energy weapons is of great interest to the Naval Research Enterprise because it could enhance the survivability and self-defense capabilities of naval platforms. Such technology could also spark advances in materials sciences, physics, medicine and quantum science and computing.

To foster greater collaboration with international partners, the U.S. Department of State recently hosted a laser-focused conference — titled “U.S.-European Extreme Light Infrastructure (ELI) Dialogue” — in Prague, Czech Republic. ONR Global, with multiple research partnerships around the world, helped organize this conference and sponsored the travel of the keynote speaker — a Nobel Laureate in Physics — through its Visiting Scientists Program (VSP).

ONR Global is ONR’s international arm for basic research sponsorships outside of the U.S., working with researchers and partners worldwide to discover and advance research that will benefit the U.S. Navy and Marine Corps.

The VSP supports short-term travel by international scientists to the United States and international conferences to interact with researchers, share new ideas or findings, and advance basic research though collaboration.

The keynote speaker, Dr. Gerard Mourou, was co-winner of the 2018 Nobel Prize in Physics for the invention of chirped-pulse amplification — which allows lasers to be stretched and compressed to create ultra-short, very high-intensity pulses.

Mourou is also the founder of the Extreme Light Infrastructure (ELI) program, a billion-dollar multinational project to build a series of high-intensity laser research facilities throughout Europe. There are currently three facilities in Czech Republic, Romania and Hungary — designed to produce the most powerful laser pulses ever.

When Mourou spoke at the conference, he stressed the need for: increased cooperation between U.S. and European scientists; streamlined laser research among academia, industry and government; expanded research opportunities at ELI facilities; and the sustainment of a talent pool of both established and up-and-coming researchers.

“Science is a human endeavor that depends on human interaction,” said O’Regan from ONR Global. “Face-to-face connections like those made at this conference will lay the foundation for stronger relationships, enable American and international researchers to keep up with the state of the art, and help high-intensity laser research reach its full potential.”

To read a summary of the laser report by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine, visit

Warren Duffie Jr. is a contractor for ONR Corporate Strategic Communications.

About the Office of Naval Research

The Department of the Navy’s Office of Naval Research provides the science and technology necessary to maintain the Navy and Marine Corps’ technological advantage. Through its affiliates, ONR is a leader in science and technology with engagement in 50 states, 55 countries, 634 institutions of higher learning and nonprofit institutions, and more than 960 industry partners. ONR, through its commands, including headquarters, ONR Global and the Naval Research Laboratory in Washington, D.C., employs more than 3,800 people, comprising uniformed, civilian and contract personnel.

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