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  1. 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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