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World’s First 2 Megajoule Ultraviolet Laser Fired Brings Us One Step Closer To Nuclear Fusion

We may be a long way off from developing something like the Death Star, but with the first firing of a 2 megajoule ultraviolet laser, we’re one step closer to feasible nuclear fusion. The record was set at the National Ignition Facility (NIF) at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California where 192 lasers fired a combined 1.875-megajoule shot. After passing through a focusing lens, the laser managed 2.03 megajoules, blowing away the previous record.

Ok, so it’s a big laser, what’s the big deal? First of all, it’s a big laser. Second of all, a 2 megajoule laser could have applications in nuclear fusion. The ultimate goal is to get the laser in question to fire 15 shots per second, and while there’s still a way to go, we now know the laser can fire at 2 megajoules, and it can do it without blowing itself up in the process. Now, if the rate of fire can be increased, it might be possible to generate a fusion reaction by imploding hydrogen isotope pellets and under conditions where the energy output would be higher than the energy required to boot. There are many steps between here and there, however.

Considering the rate at which the technology seems to be advancing, scientists are predicting that igniition point, or a fusion reaction that merely breaks even, may be reached in the next six months. Hopefully they’re right. The laser is being developed at a complex funded by the US Nuclear Weapons Complex, which is more concerned with the physics of nuclear bombs, and the US Department of Energy has thrown most of its funding towards a magnet-based fusion process. That being the case, laser-based fusion is in a race to acheieve ignition before the end of the fiscal year, when funding runs out. Obviously, this is but one step in the right direction.

In any event, what’s important to remember here is that some where in California, someone fired a gigantic, record-breaking laser. And really, isn’t that alone worth celebrating?

(Nature via Physorg)

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