SPIE Leaders Commend NIF for Milestone Laser Shot

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Advances toward laser fusion as an abundant new source of clean energy announced recently by the National Ignition Facility are also paving a path toward new scientific discovery, say SPIE leaders.

For those working in photonics, the excitement is compounded by the sheer magnitude of what the NIF system represents.

Leaders of SPIE have congratulated the National Ignition Facility (NIF) on its latest milestone, a record-breaking laser pulse equal to 1,000 times more energy than the United States uses at any instant in time. The event took place 15 March and was announced last week.

“The advances toward laser fusion being made at NIF are exciting for our energy future, with the promise of a limitless, clean source of energy,” said Eustace Dereniak, President of SPIE, the international society for optics and photonics. “But for those of us working in photonics, the excitement is compounded by the sheer magnitude of what the powerful and precise system at the National Ignition Facility represents. It’s a tremendous feat of engineering and will enable discovery of new insights on the physics of matter.”

NIF will replicate the extreme conditions needed to achieve the long-sought goals of fusion ignition and burn as well as energy gain, with the goal of creating and igniting a small, man-made star with laser light from 192 identical beams. It will also be the first facility to demonstrate both phenomena in a lab, a major step toward building a nuclear fusion power station that could be a source of safe, limitless, and carbon-free electricity.

The historic laser shot involved a shaped pulse of energy 23 billionths of a second long that generated 411 trillion watts (TW) of peak power.

In an SPIE Newsroom interview in January 2012, Lawrence Livermore National Lab program director for Laser Fusion Energy Mike Dunne predicted that ignition and burn at NIF would be successfully achieved by the end of 2012 or shortly thereafter.

“We look forward to LLNL meeting its long-sought goal later this year. That will open a new path to energy availability in the post fossil-fuel future. The people working on this dream for so long have greatly benefited the optical community while building the engineering marvel that is the NIF. We would not have many of the advanced lasers of today, important advanced manufacturing tools, without the work done at LLNL to solve materials and fabrication challenges for high-power lasers,” SPIE CEO Eugene Arthurs.

The 1.875 megajoule shot exceeds NIF's original design specification and sets the stage for full-power experiments over the coming months. Not only did the shot achieve the highest recorded energy threshold, it also was one of the most precise ever fired at NIF: The energy produced was within 1.3 percent of its goal. Such precision is vital because the energy distribution among the beams determines how symmetrical an implosion is obtained in capsules containing fusion fuel. Implosion symmetry is a critical factor in achieving the pressures and temperatures required for ignition. NIF will pursue operations at even higher power and higher energy levels to achieve ignition, according to project director Ed Moses.

View the 2012 SPIE Newsroom video interview with Mike Dunne.

View the 2010 SPIE Newsroom video interview with Ed Moses.

About SPIE

SPIE is the international society for optics and photonics, a not-for-profit organization founded in 1955 to advance light-based technologies. The Society serves nearly 225,000 constituents from approximately 150 countries, offering conferences, continuing education, books, journals, and a digital library in support of interdisciplinary information exchange, professional growth, and patent precedent. SPIE provided over $2.5 million in support of education and outreach programs in 2011.

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