Scientists Fire Most Powerful Laser in History, Hope to Unlock Fusion Energy

The interior of the NIF target chamber. The service module carrying technicians can be seen on the left. The target positioner, which holds the target, is on the right. [Photo: NIF]
On March 15, scientists at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory fired 192 laser beams inside the National Ignition Facility (NIF). The infrared lasers were concentrated into a single beam of ultraviolet energy that topped out at 2.03 megajoules, making it the most powerful laser in history--and the world’s first 2-megajoule ultraviolet laser.

The chamber was designed to accomodate a 1.8-megajoule laser; such a laser would easily trounce the previous world-record 1.6-megajoule laser. The focused beam, however, managed to reach an initial 1.875 megajoules, and surpassed the 2-million-joule marker after passing through the final focusing lenses.

Although the laser shot exceeded the scientists’ expectations, it did relatively little damage to the NIF’s laser optics. The scientists fired a second shot 36 hours after the world-record moment, and the laser will eventually be able to fire 15 times per second.

A NIF target contains a polished capsule about two millimeters in diameter, filled with cryogenic (super-cooled) hydrogen fuel. [Photo: NIF]

The whole point of this super-powerful laser is to produce a nuclear fusion reaction by fusing hydrogen isotopes. Yes, you read that right: nuclear fusion, the same energy-producing reaction that occurs in our Sun.

Later this year, scientists will fire the lasers at a target of hydrogen fuel--the experiment that the NIF chamber was designed to accommodate.

Do you believe manmade fusion energy is possible? Leave a comment.

[Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory via Nature and Physorg]

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