Gallery: World’s Largest Laser a Step Closer to Fusion Energy


This week California’s Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory announced that it fired up the world’s largest laser in a ‘dry run’ — a crucial first step towards the lab’s goal of creating nuclear fusion. During the process, 192 laser beams were converged in a 30-foot-in-diameter metal sphere where they delivered a 1 megajoule blast to a hydrogen-filled pellet. Fusion power is the holy grail of energy production — though it has never been achieved, it has the potential to create incredible amounts of energy and could replace the need for oil and gas reserves.

The laser is housed in the $3.5 billion National Ignition Facility, a 10 story building as wide as three football fields. The massive laser was used on a peppercorn-sized pellet of nuclear fuel, which was immediately crushed, causing it to emit a shower of neutrons — exactly what the scientists were hoping for. Only 75% of the laser’s power was used during this experiment.

“In my mind, to have accomplished this shot is an almost unfathomable scientific achievement,” Paul Drake, a physicist at the University of Michigan told “I’ve had a lifetime of experience of big science facilities, and find myself in awe of [the NIF team] having made this thing work this fast.”

The ultimate goal of the giant laser is to create a fusion reaction — the same process that is at work in the center of our sun. This week’s test was a promising first step, however, there are limits. The facility’s staff only have two years to reach their goal before the expensive technology is utilized for defense research. Hopefully the NIF’s scientific team will be able to do full-power tests in the near future, as the potential for unlimited energy is… well… limitless!

+ National Ignition Facility

Via Wired


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  1. pjjaeger October 20, 2010 at 9:40 am

    Read “Sun in a Bottle” by Charles Seife. that will explain the difference between Fusion (Smashing multiple atoms together to create energy) and Fission (Ripping them apart to create energy)

  2. pkpsycho October 19, 2010 at 8:50 am


    I happen to be reading The Sum Of All Fears by Tom Clancy that has a reasonably scientifically accurate description of a two-stage, and after all it’s pretty hard to split the nucleus of a hydrogen atom with it’s all of one particle, so fusion is how it works.

  3. zenmoused October 18, 2010 at 11:32 am

    @pjjaeger: Actually baughb was correct. Fusion-based thermonuclear weapons have been in existence since 1951 with the Ivy Mike test. Since then virtually all modern nuclear bombs utilize fusion along with fission in two-stage detonations.

  4. pjjaeger October 18, 2010 at 9:44 am

    @baughb: Thermonuclear Weapons use Fission Power, not Fusion Power. But you were right about the other stuff with the Fusion being attempted and achieved since the 1950’s just with out any benefit as of yet.

  5. mjp October 18, 2010 at 4:50 am

    I believe fusion power has been obtained. I.e. power has been generated from a fusion reaction on earth. It’s just that the net output of power has been a negative. i.e it took more power to make the reaction than was retrieved from the reaction.

    Saying that is has never been achieved seems to belittle decades of works by the JET laboratory (

  6. baughb October 18, 2010 at 3:01 am

    Surely you mean “self-sustaining” fusion has never been achieved? Because researchers have been playing with sustained fusion reactions that require more power than the generate since the 1950s, including the big one, Joint European Torus (largest to date), and ITER currently under construction in Europe. Not to mention thermonuclear weapons (aka h-bombs) are all fusion devices, which, not coincidentally, also date back to the 50s.

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