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Fusion ignition: World's largest laser unveiled

Stadium-sized laser facility will help scientists study fusion energy technology

May 29, 2009 01:44 PM ET

Computerworld - Scientists at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory are taking the wraps off the world's largest laser today.

The stadium-sized laser, dubbed the National Ignition Facility (NIF), is being housed at the Department of Energy's Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in Livermore, Calif. The record-breaking laser is made up of 192 individual beams, each about 40 centimeters square. The laser fusion facility is designed to deliver mega amounts of energy with pinpoint precision in billionths of a second, according officials at the scientific research laboratory.

Scientist say the laser can also help to achieve fusion ignition, which harkens back to the beginnings of the laboratory, which was established in the midst of the Cold Car. In the 1950s, the laboratory was instrumental in the development of fusion energy and the hydrogren - or fusion - bomb.

"Completion of the National Ignition Facility is a true milestone that will make America safer and more energy independent by opening new avenues of scientific advancement and discovery," said National Nuclear Security Administration Administrator Thomas D'Agostino, in a statement. "NIF will be a cornerstone of a critical national security mission, ensuring the continuing reliability of the U.S. nuclear stockpile without underground nuclear testing, while also providing a path to explore the frontiers of basic science, and potential technologies for energy independence."

Researchers have high hopes for the laser facility, noting in a release that it could ease the country's dependence on foreign oil, and aid in research on national security issues, astrophysics and materials science.

For instance, scientists are hoping to use the laser to study fusion energy technology, which could lead to new energy sources, which would ease America's burden on foreign oil. Fusion is the method used to transform mass into energy. Studying fusion can also help scientists calculate the make up of stars and planets.

An opening ceremony for the facility is being held today at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, which is widely known for housing the powerful IBM BlueGene/L supercomputer.

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