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Physics World has recognised Oxford laser research among its top ten breakthroughs of the year.

The magazine recognised the work of Gianluca Gregori and Jena Meinecke, for using one of the world's most powerful laser facilities to create tiny versions of supernova explosions in the laboratory.

The magazine said, 'Supernovae are massive stellar explosions that leave behind hot, dense clouds of dust and gas that are often beautiful in appearance. One particular remnant, Cassiopeia A, has long puzzled astronomers because of its irregular knotty structure that suggests the presence of very strong magnetic fields. This supernova was simulated by Gregori, Meinecke and colleagues, who fired three laser beams onto a tiny carbon rod in an argon-filled chamber. The exploding rod creates an asymmetric shock wave that expands outwards through the argon gas, much like a real supernova in space. A plastic grid, which simulated a "lumpy" distribution of gas in the region of the supernova, was placed in the path of the shock wave, and the result was strong magnetic fields similar to those observed in Cassiopeia A. The technique could also be used to simulate a range of astrophysical processes, say the researchers'.

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The top-10 breakthroughs were chosen by a panel of six Physics World editors and reporters, and the criteria for judging the top ten included:

  • fundamental importance of research;
  • significant advance in knowledge;
  • strong connection between theory and experiment; and
  • general interest to all physicists.