Proton acceleration by irradiation of isolated spheres with an intense laser pulse
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We report on experiments irradiating isolated plastic spheres with a peak laser intensity of 2-3 x 10(20) W cm(-2). With a laser focal spot size of 10 mu m full width half maximum (FWHM) the sphere diameter was varied between 520 nm and 19.3 mu m. Maximum proton energies of similar to 25 MeV are achieved for targets matching the focal spot size of 10 mu m in diameter or being slightly smaller. For smaller spheres the kinetic energy distributions of protons become nonmonotonic, indicating a change in the accelerating mechanism from ambipolar expansion towards a regime dominated by effects caused by Coulomb repulsion of ions. The energy conversion efficiency from laser energy to proton kinetic energy is optimized when the target diameter matches the laser focal spot size with efficiencies reaching the percent level. The change of proton acceleration efficiency with target size can be attributed to the reduced cross-sectional overlap of subfocus targets with the laser. Reported experimental observations are in line with 3D3V particle in cell simulations. They make use of well-defined targets and point out pathways for future applications and experiments.