World-class Hungary laser research facility on site of old Soviet military base

Find out how scientists in Hungary built a super high-tech laser facility that allows researchers to observe the reaction of molecules and atoms to extreme light. In this episode learn:

  • How this advanced technology works
  • What “attoscience” is
  • What it could do for the future of medical science, chemistry, climate science, nanotechnology and developing new materials
  • How the EU bank financed the project

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Future Europe features a podcast episode from each of the EU’s 28 Member States. Each episode tells the story of a project that illuminates the way Europeans will live in the future. All the stories are told through the voices of people like Lóránt Lehrer—people involved in the projects.

What’s an attosecond?

How long is an attosecond? “Not so long,” chuckles Lóránt Lehrer, managing director of the innovative scientific research facility in the Hungarian city of Szeged. “Very short. Ultra-short.”

The question (and answer) may seem obscure, but they lie at the root of ‘attoscience,’ a branch of physics critical to research across a range of disciplines. The facility in Hungary, built on the site of a former Soviet military base, is part of project funded by the European Investment Bank to develop cutting-edge research across Europe.

Light pulse technology in Hungary laser research

The Extreme Light Infrastructure Attosecond Light Pulse Sources, to give it its full title, belongs to a pan-European network with complementary research centers located in the Czech Republic and Romania. They are the first of their kind in the world and are designed to open new scientific territories within physics.

 “We shoot a laser to examine what happens when the light and the material is connected,” Lehrer told the Future Europe podcast. “The parameters, the habits of the molecules, the atoms or the semiconductors, what happens there.”  The findings are then applied to research in biomedical science, chemistry, climate, nanotechnology, the development of new materials and more.

A huge responsibility

To develop this ground-breaking scientific research, Hungary has:

  • constructed a state-of-the-art research facility on the site of a former Soviet military base
  • undertaken scientific and technological developments for high peak-intensity lasers
  • opened the doors of the research centre to the worldwide scientific community.

Pioneering new developments in science presented the Extreme Light team with a considerable challenge. “It’s a huge responsibility to put every cent into the right place,” Lóránt admits. “We have to acquire lots of equipment that did not previously exist. 

The European Investment Bank was on hand to assist with a loan of €35 million.

“The conclusion was that it was a good project and in line with the objectives of the European Investment Bank”, explains Michael Schaller, an EIB engineer. “They are very sound, very innovative.”

Hungary laser research lynchpin for R&D

Once work has been completed at the facility in Szeged next year, it will be a lynchpin for research and development in this area of science all over Europe and the world.

It is also hoped that it will contribute to the growth of the Hungarian economy and strengthen the position of the country as an emerging scientific powerhouse. “For Hungary to participate in this type of project - with the support of the EIB and the European commission - could put Hungary onto the scientific map,” says Lehrer.

Michael Schaller agrees. “It’s a very good example of how scientists can come together as Europeans to construct something for the benefit of the scientific community in Europe, and of course we will be able to benefit from the science that comes out of this in the long–term. It will be an enabler for the country and the region as a whole”