Few-cycle microscopy of a laser wakefield accelerator
This thesis describes the development and first application of a novel diagnostic for a laser driven wakefield accelerator. It is termed Few‐Cycle Microscopy (FCM) and consists of a high-resolution imaging system and probe pulses with a duration of a few optical cycles synchronized to a high intensity laser pulse. Using FCM has opened a pristine view into the laser‐plasma interaction and has allowed to record high‐resolution images of the plasma wave in real time. Important stages during the wave’s evolution such as its formation, its breaking and finally the acceleration of electrons in the associated wake fields were observed in the experiment as well as in simulations, allowing for the first time a quantitative comparison between analytical and numerical models and experimental results. Using this diagnostic, the expansion of the wave’s first period, the so‐called ‘bubble’, was identified to be crucial for the injection of electrons into the wave. Furthermore, the shadowgrams taken with FCM in combination with interferograms and backscatter spectra have revealed a new acceleration regime when using hydrogen as the target gas. It was found that in this scheme electron pulses are generated with a higher charge, lower divergence and better pointing stability than with helium gas. The underlying pre‐heating process could be attributed to stimulated Raman scattering, which has been thought up till now to be negligible for short (t < 30 fs) laser pulses. However, as it is shown in this thesis, the interplay of the temporal intensity contrast of the laser pulse 1 ps before the peak of the pulse together with a sufficiently high plasma electron density can provide suitable conditions for this instability to grow, resulting in improved electron pulse parameters.