World's largest laser sets huge fusion record with 'burning' plasma

A nuclear fusion experiment at the National Ignition Facility (NIF) has generated 1.3 megajoules in 100 trillionths of a second.

Published Wed, Feb 23 2022 4:03 AM CST   |   Updated Sun, Mar 20 2022 6:26 PM CDT

Two studies on the fusion experiment titled "Design of inertial fusion implosions reaching the burning plasma regime" and "Burning plasma achieved in inertial fusion," have been published in the journal Nature Physics.

World's largest laser sets huge fusion record with 'burning' plasma 01 |

Scientists from the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL) in Northern California announced a record-breaking energy release during a nuclear fusion experiment at the National Ignition Facility (NIF) last year, the world's largest laser. The experiment released 1.3 megajoules of energy in 100 trillionths of a second, equating to 10 quadrillion watts of power.

The experiment used a small pellet of hydrogen fuel encased in a spherical polycarbonate diamond shell, contained in a hohlraum, a small cylinder made of depleted uranium lined with gold. The pellet was heated with 192 lasers, resulting in high enough temperatures that the pellet "imploded" and created a "burning" plasma.

"A burning plasma is when heating from the fusion reactions becomes the dominant source of heating in the plasma, more than required to initiate or jump-start the fusion," wrote Annie Kritcher, a physicist at LLNL, in an email to Live Science.

"This is significant as it is a necessary step on the way to producing large amounts of energy from fusion relative to the energy we put in. Burning plasmas [at] NIF are now in a new regime where we can scientifically study such conditions," physicist Alex Zylstra told Live Science.

You can read more from the studies here and here.

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