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. (Photo : Damien Jemison/LLNL)
Lasers can be used for a variety of applications from extremely precise measuring systems, to one day hopefully generating enough energy at a single point in space as to rip the very fabric of space and time itself. Researchers from Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory's National Ignition Facility (NIF) took one step closer to the latter scenario by generating 500 trillion watts (terawatts) of power and 1.85 mega joules of ultraviolet laser light using 192 laser beams.
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The NIF's goal, however, wasn't to create a theoretical wormhole, but to hopefully recreate the process of hydrogen fusion where the energy output is greater than the energy input. Hydrogen fusion is the process by which the sun creates its energy.
"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 fusion energy."
For comparison, 500 terawatts is 1,000 times the amount of power that the United States uses at any point in time, and 1.85 mega joules is 100 times what any regular laser today produces.
"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 MIT.
"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."
192 lasers were fired off within few trillionths of a second of each other onto a 2-millimeter-diameter target and the resulting power generated was within 1 percent of the project's goal. To achieve the intense level of energy, the NIF team had to work closely with their industrial partners in order to develop materials that could withstand the repeated laser firings and heat levels.