Proton acceleration from the interaction of high contrast, 25 fs laser pulses at >1019 W/cm2 intensity with plastic foils covered with a single layer of regularly packed micro-spheres has been investigated experimentally. The proton cut-off energy has been measured as a function of the micro-sphere size and laser incidence angle for different substrate thickness, and for both P and S polarization. The presence of micro-spheres with a size comparable to the laser wavelength allows to increase the proton cut-off energy for both polarizations at small angles of incidence (10∘). For large angles of incidence, however, proton energy enhancement with respect to flat targets is absent. Analysis of electron trajectories in particle-in-cell simulations highlights the role of the surface geometry in the heating of electrons.

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