Following the demonstration of the first laser light by Théodore H. Maiman, the research activities on high-power high-energy pulsed lasers, laser-generated plasmas and applications started at Ecole Polytechnique in Paris as soon as in the early 60's. After the first generations of ruby and CO2, the laser & plasma group - at that time, one of the teams of the PMI laboratory (Laboratoire de Physique des Milieux Ionisés) - acquired, for more laser energy on target, a Nd:glass laser that was installed in Palaiseau in 1975. From that moment, the mission of the group was not only to develop specific research programs but also to provide access to its unique facility to external users in the framework of a Groupe de Recherche Coordonnée (GRECO) called Interaction Laser-Matière (ILM).
From then on, laser and experimental facilities have been continuously upgraded to integrate the latest developments to make them attractive to the whole scientific research community. LULI is now operating two facilities coupling laser beams in the nanosecond and picosecond regimes: ELFIE and LULI2000.
LULI, as an independent laboratory, has been created in 1988 through an UMR agreement between CNRS (Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique) and Ecole Polytechnique, extended to UPMC (Université Pierre & Marie Curie) in 1994 and CEA (Commissariat à l'Energie Atomique) in 1998. In addition to the classic research mission of the UMRs, this agreement establishes LULI as a French user facility open to the whole national academic community.
In 1994, LULI became a European user facility, partly funded by the European Commission to welcome European users through the FP3 “Human Capital and Mobility” programme. Such a transnational access activity has been carried on nonstop till today, through the “Training and Mobility of Researchers” (FP4) and “Improving Human Potential” (FP5) programmes, or, since 2004, through the LASERLAB-Europe Integrated Infrastructures Initiative (I3).
In 2011, four years after the beginning of the project itself, LULI was given the responsibility of the CILEX-APOLLON project which aims at developing and operating a multi-petawatt laser facility in the femtosecond regime and the associated experimental equipments, in collaboration with a large number of laboratories on the Plateau de Saclay.