The National Ignition Facility
Episode #4 of the course “Most ambitious science projects”
Known as the world’s most energy-filled and sizable laser, the National Ignition Facility in Livermore, California is as long as three football fields. Additionally, the laser reaches heights of 10 stories, covers 172,800 square feet (~16,053 square meters), and makes 2 million joules of ultraviolet energy. The laser needs over 1,000 personnel for maintenance.
That laser’s emission can make the target realize temperatures over 100 million degrees and experience more than 100 billion times more pressure than that of the Earth’s atmosphere. These conditions are similar to what is found in the center of stars and gas-giant nebulous bodies. The laser required over $3 billion to build and costs another $140 million to maintain each year.
Uses for Science
Focusing the 192 individual laser beams comprising the NIF laser on a target point that has atoms of deuterium (hydrogen and one neutron) and tritium (hydrogen and two neutrons) causes the atoms’ nuclei to combine and emit a concentrated energy burst. NIF scientists are attempting to fix the issue to yield, finally, a net gain of energy from a reaction of fusion.
Researchers are also using their work to examine what occurs with nuclear weapons over time—a critical question needed to judge the safety and reliability of U.S. nuclear holdings. Lastly, due to conditions in the laser’s target that imitate those in the center of huge stars, scientists wish to know more about how fusion yields some of the heavier atomic elements, like uranium and gold.
Uses for Practical Life
If you are possibly keeping nuclear weapons in your residence, NIF data may help you figure out the reliability of your nuclear inventory. In any event, proponents of NIF believe that it could give you fusion power, but a fusion power plant will most likely not be founded on giant lasers.
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