The Hercules laser at the University of Michigan currently fires a beam with the power of 300 terawatts (TW), but by replacing certain outdated components that could be bumped up to a possible 1,000 TW. With that kind of power, the laser could lead to advances in astrophysics research and enable more precise, faster and cheaper medical x-rays.
Activated in 2007, the Hercules laser holds the Guinness World Record for Highest Intensity Focused Laser, creating a focused laser beam with an intensity of 20 sextillion watts per square centimeter. It has some stiff competition though: the Diocles laser at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, for example, has a power of "only" 100 TW, but it pulses 100 times faster.
To keep Hercules ahead of the pack, the upgrade will bump its power up to 500 TW or even 1,000 TW, which should double or triple that record-holding intensity. That boost will be achieved by replacing three of the device's five ageing pump lasers – components that amplify ultrashort pulses of light. These were custom-built over 10 years ago, since that was the only way to reach a power of 300 TW, but nowadays, those are outstripped by commercially-available pump lasers.