World's largest laser opens (w/Video)

May 29, 2009 By Andy Evangelista

Scientists for decades have been hunting for ways to harness the enormous force of the sun and stars to supply energy here on Earth. The National Ignition Facility at the Lawrence Livermore Laboratory may spark the light at the end of the tunnel.

The facility was dedicated today (May 29) at a ceremony attended by numerous state and national officials.

Roughly the size of three football fields, the facility houses the world’s largest laser. Within the next three years, its 192 laser beams will deliver massive amounts of at a pea-sized target. That target, filled with , will in turn release 10 to 100 times the power than the amount injected by the laser.

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Video credit: Lawrence Livermore Laboratory

When all of the lasers’ energy slams the target, it will generate unprecedented temperatures in the target materials - temperatures of more than 100 million degrees and pressures more than 100 billion times the Earth’s atmosphere. These conditions are similar to those in the stars and the cores of . Igniting these conditions will create nuclear fusion, which is the reaction that gives the sun and the stars their immense power. Mimicking and controlling the highly volatile process - tantamount to creating a star in a laboratory - could lead to ways to produce plentiful clean and safe energy.

While demonstrating nuclear fusion as a viable means for abundant clean energy may be the most exciting offshoot of NIF research, another of its roles is to study the conditions associated with the inner workings of nuclear weapons.

The NIF is a cornerstone of a critical national security mission to ensure the reliability and safety of the U.S. nuclear stockpile without conducting underground testing. At NIF, scientists will be able to provide data for supercomputer simulations that replicate conditions that exist inside a thermonuclear weapon.

NIF experiments will also help scientists who are trying to understand the universe in many fundamental ways, including astrophysicists learning about the hot, dense interiors of large planets, stars and other phenomena.

Provided by University of California

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User comments : 15

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OBSL33t
not rated yet May 29, 2009
Have fun guys.
Don't ignite the atmosphere please.
el_gramador
not rated yet May 30, 2009
I have only one question. How would they contain the intense amount of energy released?
blackle4ps3
not rated yet May 30, 2009
maybe use it to destroy nuclear waste that's the real enemy
Mercury_01
5 / 5 (1) May 30, 2009
So will the reaction continue after the laser has pulsed???
eric96
3 / 5 (4) May 30, 2009
In Science as complicated as this, it either works or fails miserably. It is highly likely that there will be complications. However, the acclaimed most difficult task (reaching the temperatures and pressures of the sun) have "apparently" been solved. The laser would simply fire a split second; whether or not that's enough to start the reaction remains to be seen. Once the reaction is started there is no need for the laser to fire nor could it the grid only has enough power to do it for a split second; they accumulate charge like in tasers...then once its reached a certain point they fire the laser and have to wait for a recharge. Because it will only fire for a split second, the laser is no threat to earth, however if a big explosion does occur than we were "sort of" successful. It means the reaction occurred, but stability was lost. The next problems are stability of the reaction and containment of the reaction. Containment of the reaction if I recall made some headway where researchers discovered how to convert heat to light immediately thus it would reduce the heat produced to something containable. For actual containment, the use of molten metals and a magnetic field is the simplest way to put it.



david_42
4.3 / 5 (3) May 30, 2009
There will be no "big explosion", nor will the reaction continue. The target pellet is tiny and only one of them per firing. Hence, no possibility of a sustained reaction as all available hydrogen is burned in the initial pulse.
Mercury_01
not rated yet May 30, 2009
So if it works, would we then be able to design a system of sustaining a reaction, containing it, and harnessing the reaction? or is that way too far off to speculate?
otto1923
5 / 5 (1) May 30, 2009
Eric96 you sound like you really believe you know something about this.
Soylent
not rated yet May 31, 2009
So if it works, would we then be able to design a system of sustaining a reaction, containing it, and harnessing the reaction?


No. You can't contain a thermonuclear bomb. All ICF designs are focused on repeating the process at NIF approximately 10 times per second(instead of a few times per day), burning one tiny fuel pellet at a time.
Mercury_01
not rated yet May 31, 2009
So if it works, would we then be able to design a system of sustaining a reaction, containing it, and harnessing the reaction?




No. You can't contain a thermonuclear bomb. All ICF designs are focused on repeating the process at NIF approximately 10 times per second(instead of a few times per day), burning one tiny fuel pellet at a time.


No shit?! Are they planning on actually collecting the energy?
eric96
2 / 5 (2) Jun 01, 2009
I have been following the whole make a sun project since the beginning because I had a related idea; the same basic idea behind containment. I have been following all reported progress. what david_42 says is true and so is what I say. There immediate experiment supports david_42 whereas the long term goal supports what I was saying.
jldb
5 / 5 (1) Jun 01, 2009
>Are they planning on actually collecting the energy?

yes. that's the goal.

https://lasers.ll...re/life/
El_Nose
not rated yet Jun 02, 2009
I believe this is all a part of the ITER project each country has its phase to complete to add to the total research goal of sustainable fusion.

I remember when i originally read on ITER on project was ignition and another was rapid laser refiring as the two biggest hurdles everything past that was suspected as being easily overcomeable.

ITER is currently on hold due to projected budget overruns --- meaning the people planning it who haven;t even started building it are now saying there estimates 5 years ago were wrong by about 60% IOW it will cost a bit more than twice the previous estimate.

I say doit but i don;t have 500 Billion USd to fork over
Nevertheless
not rated yet Jun 02, 2009
I know very little about all this; however, I assume that the reaction is mainly deuterium-deuterium or deuterium-tritium or more likely a proportionate mixture of the two.

Wouldn't a byproduct of the reaction be a plethora of fast neutrons that would induce radioactivity in the reactor environment and thus ultimately be a dirty process, hence not clean energy?
Hyperion1110
not rated yet Jun 06, 2009
I believe this is all a part of the ITER project each country has its phase to complete to add to the total research goal of sustainable fusion.



I remember when i originally read on ITER on project was ignition and another was rapid laser refiring as the two biggest hurdles everything past that was suspected as being easily overcomeable.



ITER is currently on hold due to projected budget overruns --- meaning the people planning it who haven;t even started building it are now saying there estimates 5 years ago were wrong by about 60% IOW it will cost a bit more than twice the previous estimate.



I say doit but i don;t have 500 Billion USd to fork over


This is not related to ITER. Though both methods are inertial confinement fusion schemes, ITER is an advanced but traditional tokamak (magnetic containment) reactor. NIF, on the other hand, uses the momentum from the 192 laser beams to initiate fusion.