γ-Ray sources are among the most fundamental experimental tools currently available to modern physics. As well as the obvious benefits to fundamental research, an ultra-bright source of γ-rays could form the foundation of scanning of shipping containers for special nuclear materials and provide the bases for new types of cancer therapy.
However, for these applications to prove viable, γ-ray sources must become compact and relatively cheap to manufacture. In recent years, advances in laser technology have formed the cornerstone of optical sources of high energy electrons which already have been used to generate synchrotron radiation on a compact scale. Exploiting the scattering induced by a second laser, one can further enhance the energy and number of photons produced provided the problems of synchronisation and compact γ-ray detection are solved.
Here, we report on the work that has been done in developing an all-optical and hence, compact non-linear Thomson scattering source, including the new methods of synchronisation and compact γ-ray detection. We present evidence of the generation of multi-MeV (maximum 16–18 MeV) and ultra-high brilliance (exceeding 1020 photons s−1mm−2mrad−2 0.1% BW at 15 MeV) γ-ray beams. These characteristics are appealing for the paramount practical applications mentioned above.