The National Science Foundation is funding the construction of the 3 petawatt ZEUS laser facility at the University of Michigan. Once commissioned (late 2023), ZEUS is intended to operate as an NSF sponsored user facility, offering external users experimental access using a merit-based peer reviewed proposal system to advance science frontiers and enable discovery.

The name ZEUS (Zettawatt-Equivalent Ultrashort pulse laser System) refers to the interaction of a PetaWatt laser pulse colliding with a GeV energy electron beam that can be generated by one of its two beamlines. This geometry provides the equivalent of a “Zettawatt” power laser interaction (1021 Watts) in the rest frame of the electron beam. It will consequently allow exploration of fundamental yet unanswered questions regarding non-linear quantum electrodynamics in relativistic plasmas, including non-perturbative quantum radiation reaction and electron-positron pair production mechanisms. In addition, there will be a long-pulse shock driver that can be used with one of the other beams.

Further experiments enabled by this facility will include pump-probe experiments using femtosecond x-rays as a probe of material dynamics on ultra-short timescales, the production of GeV ion beams, the generation of instabilities in electron-positron jets, the exploration of vacuum polarization effects, relativistic astrophysical shocks, and the production of pions and muons. Once completed, the ZEUS laser system will be the highest-power laser system in the US and will be among the highest-power lasers worldwide for the next decade.