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  2. Here, we report on the setup and commissioning of a compact recollimating single plasma mirror (PM) for temporal contrast enhancement at the Draco 150 TW laser during laser-proton acceleration experiments. The temporal contrast with and without PM is characterized single-shot by means of self-referenced spectral interferometry with extended time excursion at unprecedented dynamic and temporal range. This allows for the first single-shot measurement of the PM trigger point, which is interesting for the quantitative investigation of the complex pre-plasma formation process at the surface of the target used for proton acceleration. As a demonstration of high contrast laser plasma interactionmore » we present proton acceleration results with ultra-thin liquid crystal targets of ~ 1 μm down to 10 nm thickness. Focus scans of different target thicknesses show that highest proton energies are reached for the thinnest targets at best focus. This indicates that the contrast enhancement is effective such that the acceleration process is not limited by target pre-expansion induced by laser light preceding the main laser pulse.« less
  3. Here we present an experimental study investigating laser-driven proton acceleration via target normal sheath acceleration (TNSA) over a target thickness range spanning the typical TNSA-dominant regime (~1 μm) down to below the onset of relativistic laser-transparency (<40 nm). This is done with a single target material in the form of freely adjustable films of liquid crystals along with high contrast (via plasma mirror) laser interaction (~2.65 J, 30 fs, I>1 x 10 21 W cm -2). Thickness dependent maximum proton energies scale well with TNSA models down to the thinnest targets, while those under ~40 nm indicate the influence ofmore » relativistic transparency on TNSA, observed via differences in light transmission, maximum proton energy, and proton beam spatial profile. Oblique laser incidence (45°) allowed the fielding of numerous diagnostics to determine the interaction quality and details: ion energy and spatial distribution was measured along the laser axis and both front and rear target normal directions; these along with reflected and transmitted light measurements on-shot verify TNSA as dominant during high contrast interaction, even for ultra-thin targets. Additionally, 3D particle-in-cell simulations qualitatively support the experimental observations of target-normal-directed proton acceleration from ultra-thin films.« less

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