NIF makes history with record 500 terawatt laser shot

Jul 12, 2012
The preamplifiers of the National Ignition Facility are the first step in increasing the energy of laser beams as they make their way toward the target chamber. NIF recently achieved a 500 terawatt shot - 1,000 times more power than the United States uses at any instant in time.

(Phys.org) -- Fifteen years of work by the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory's National Ignition Facility (NIF) team paid off on July 5 with a historic record-breaking laser shot. The NIF laser system of 192 beams delivered more than 500 trillion watts (terawatts or TW) of peak power and 1.85 megajoules (MJ) of ultraviolet laser light to its target. Five hundred terawatts is 1,000 times more power than the United States uses at any instant in time, and 1.85 megajoules of energy is about 100 times what any other laser regularly produces today.

The shot validated NIF's most challenging laser performance specifications set in the late 1990s when scientists were planning the world's most energetic laser facility. Combining extreme levels of and peak power on a target in the NIF is a critical requirement for achieving one of physics' grand challenges -- igniting fuel in the laboratory and producing more energy than that supplied to the target.

In the historic test, NIF's 192 lasers fired within a few trillionths of a second of each other onto a 2-millimeter-diameter target. The total energy matched the amount requested by shot managers to within better than 1 percent. Additionally, the beam-to-beam uniformity was within 1 percent, making NIF not only the highest energy laser of its kind but the most precise and reproducible. "NIF is becoming everything scientists planned when it was conceived over two decades ago," NIF Director Edward Moses said. "It is fully operational, and scientists are taking important steps toward achieving ignition and providing experimental access to user communities for national security, basic science and the quest for clean ."

The user community agrees. "The 500 TW shot is an extraordinary accomplishment by the NIF Team, creating unprecedented conditions in the laboratory that hitherto only existed deep in stellar interiors," said Dr. Richard Petrasso, senior research scientist and division head of high energy density physics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. "For scientists across the nation and the world who, like ourselves, are actively pursuing fundamental science under extreme conditions and the goal of laboratory fusion ignition, this is a remarkable and exciting achievement."

A view of a cryogenically cooled NIF target as "seen" by the laser through the hohlraum's laser entrance hole. In ignition experiments, the hydrogen in the fuel capsule must be compressed to about 100 times the density of lead.

"Already the most incredibly tightly controlled and most energetic laser in the world, it is remarkable that NIF has achieved the 500 TW milestone - quite a significant achievement," said Dr. Raymond Jeanloz, professor of astronomy and earth and planetary science at the University of California, Berkeley. "This breakthrough will give us incredible new opportunities in studying materials at extreme conditions."

NIF is operating routinely at unprecedented performance levels. The July 5 shot was the third experiment in which total energy exceeded 1.8 MJ on the target. On July 3 scientists achieved the highest energy laser shot ever fired, with more than 1.89 MJ delivered to the target at a peak power of 423 TW. A shot on March 15 set the stage for the July 5 experiment by delivering 1.8 MJ for the first time with a peak power of 411 TW.

Original concerns about achieving these levels of extreme laser performance on NIF centered in part on the quality of optics existing in the late 1990s that could not withstand this intense laser light. Lawrence Livermore researchers worked closely with their industrial partners to improve manufacturing methods and drastically reduce the number of defects. Livermore scientists also developed in-house procedures to remove and mitigate small amounts of damage resulting from repeated laser firings.

NIF is influencing the design of new giant facilities being built or planned in the United Kingdom, France, Russia, Japan and China.

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User comments : 15

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fixer
1.8 / 5 (8) Jul 12, 2012
If this doesn't deter those pesky boat people nothing will.
Pyegar_Grimaldi
3.7 / 5 (3) Jul 13, 2012
How are they planning to harness the energy created by fusion, and how do they plan to get it into the grid?
davidgro
5 / 5 (2) Jul 13, 2012
Wow, 1.85 MJ - that's over 440 kcal (Food Calories), as much as a McDonald's Chocolate Triple Thick Milkshake. It's also 514 watt-hours, (so as much energy as leaving a 100-watt light on for little more than 5 hours)

Of course what's special is that it's all in the same trillionth of an hour, but it's funny that the actual amount of energy is in the range of normal human experience.
Noumenon
2.8 / 5 (11) Jul 13, 2012
Wow, 1.85 MJ - that's over 440 kcal (Food Calories), as much as a McDonald's Chocolate Triple Thick Milkshake. It's also 514 watt-hours, (so as much energy as leaving a 100-watt light on for little more than 5 hours)

Of course what's special is that it's all in the same trillionth of an hour, but it's funny that the actual amount of energy is in the range of normal human experience.


Yea, it's the same type of misplaced analogy we sometimes hear about the energy of particle accelerators;

"To put this in context, a mosquito's entire body has approximately 1 TeV in kinetic energy.  Mosquitoes, though, have approximately 1023 to 1024 atoms in them, each with one or more protons.  The LHC puts the equivalent energy of these countless trillions of atoms into a single proton, an incredible accomplishment."
typicalguy
5 / 5 (7) Jul 13, 2012
How are they planning to harness the energy created by fusion, and how do they plan to get it into the grid?

Every time I read an article about the NIF there are ignorant individuals like this posting comments. At least read up on it before posting this nonsense.

The NIF was not built for fusion research. Fusion research is a happy secondary result of it's construction. It's real purpose is to allow the US to test nuclear weapons without breaking the nuclear test ban treaty. The NIF was NOT built to help people power their homes so why should it be used for that purpose? The US needs to ensure it's nuclear weapons (old and new) are going to work well as a deterrent.

https://lasers.llnl.gov/about/
"Helping ensure the nation's security without nuclear weapons testing"

http://www.econom...13726730
"A machine for testing nuclear weapons opens for business "
LibertarianPaul
3.7 / 5 (3) Jul 13, 2012
Even military research has value for the civilian community.
Deathclock
1 / 5 (1) Jul 13, 2012
Mosquitoes, though, have approximately 1023 to 1024 atoms in them


Umm... that's like estimating the distance between the Earth and the Sun at 1cm...

I assume you meant 10^23, right?
El_Nose
5 / 5 (2) Jul 13, 2012
Mosquitoes, though, have approximately 1023 to 1024 atoms in them, each with one or more protons.


WHAT !!!??!!!

did you mean 10^23 - 10^24 ?? -- thats a lot bigger than a trillion buddy even using long form numerical notation
Noumenon
2.8 / 5 (9) Jul 13, 2012
Yes, I was quoting another web site, that used superscripts in place of "^", sorry.
deisik
5 / 5 (1) Jul 14, 2012
did you mean 10^23 - 10^24 ?? -- thats a lot bigger than a trillion buddy even using long form numerical notation


He said countless trillions
rbrtwjohnson
not rated yet Jul 14, 2012
Just brute force is not enough to harness fusion energy. It is needed the wise use of electrostatic acceleration, much more energy-efficient than lasers, to ensure a net energy gain. http://www.youtub...-QYqqxzM

Osiris1
1 / 5 (2) Jul 15, 2012
To those mouthing on about nuke weapons maintenance being the purpose of the NIF. Read the whole name and not just the acronym. National Ignition Facility! Its whole purpose is laser ignited fusion. Magnetoelectrohydrodynamics IS the way that energy will be recovered best. NIF was not built to boil water! Once done, laser ignited fusion can then be 'miniaturized' fit on ships. Space ships as not only power, but propulsion systems. Fuel can be gathered by Bussard Collectors in front of these ships, or my magnetically projected collection fields to funnel the free hydrogen common in space into its fuel tanks. Would not need much! At speed, like .6c, such would be an excellent ram scoop, a system any old hot-rodder would love.
El_Nose
not rated yet Jul 16, 2012
@osiris

the reason most people associate NIF with nuclear missle testing is because that is the only reason Congress approved the budget increase to keep it being built. If it was just for fusion power testing Congress was going to nix the plan. Go to the website it says it plain -- nuclear testing is the only reason they are still funded.

So no matter what they will be testing energy levels on par with thermonuclear explosions to better understand the US nuclear capabilities without underground testing.

If it was going to do MAINLY fusion research it would be in Europe -- the US congress has no desire to fund pure science on that scale right now.
Zatoichi
not rated yet Jul 17, 2012
Right on, Osiris! I wish I could live long enough to have a space hot rod! Could the scoop be combined with Ion thrusters? Forgive my mathematical laziness, but how long would it take to reach Mars at .6c?
gold2_718
not rated yet Jul 17, 2012
"Five hundred terawatts is 1,000 times more power than the United States uses at any instant in time"

. . . except for those instants when the NIF is firing when it is less than the power used by the US since the NIF is inside the US. Furthermore, since the average US power consumption is about 3.2 TW, the NIF shot is only about 152 times the average. PhysOrg continues its ridiculous editing.