This is joint work with M. O'Neil, L. Greengard, and L.-M. Imbert-Gerard
Since the work of Sauter in 1931 it is known that quantum electrodynamics (QED) exhibits a so-called "critical" electromagnetic field scale, at which the quantum interaction between photons and macroscopic electromagnetic fields becomes nonlinear. One prominent example is the importance of light-light interactions in vacuum at this scale, which violates the superposition principle of classical electrodynamics. Furthermore, an electromagnetic field becomes unstable in this regime, as electron-positron pairs can be spontaneously created from the vacuum at the expenses of electromagnetic-field energy (Schwinger mechanism). Unfortunately, the QED critical field scale is so high that experimental investigations are challenging. One promising pathway to explore QED in the nonlinear domain with existing technology consists in the combination of modern (multi) petawatt optical laser systems with highly energetic particles. The suitability of this approach was first demonstrated in the mid-1990s at the seminal SLAC E-144 experiment. Since then, laser technology continuously developed, implying the dawn of a new era of strong-field QED experiments. For instance, the basic processes nonlinear Compton scattering and Breit-Wheeler pair production are expected to influence laser-matter interactions and in particular plasma physics at soon available laser intensities. Therefore, a considerable effort is being undertaken to include these processes into particle-in-cell (PIC) codes used for numerical simulations.
In the first part of the talk the most prominent nonlinear QED phenomena are presented and discussed on a qualitative level. Afterwards, the mathematical formalism needed for calculations with strong plane-wave background fields is introduced with an emphasize on fundamental concepts. Finally, the nonlinear Breit-Wheeler process is considered more in depth. In particular, the semiclassical approximation is elaborated, which serves as a starting point for the implementation of quantum processes into PIC codes.