Mission-driven sciences and technology advancing the security and well-being of the nation
In December 2022, the Laboratory celebrated a first-of-its kind accomplishment—fusion ignition at LLNL’s National Ignition Facility (NIF), the world’s most energetic laser system. While the experiment that achieved this historic breakthrough took only a fraction of a second, it is the result of work performed over several decades, by numerous LLNL staff, including dozens of scientists from LLNL’s Physical and Life Sciences Directorate (PLS).
PLS staff played key roles in enabling LLNL to achieve this first-ever demonstration of fusion ignition, the moment when the energy output is greater than the laser energy used to generate the fusion reaction. Building on more than 60 years of foundational research in physics, laser science, materials science, and nuclear science at LLNL, they developed innovative solutions in areas such as target design and fabrication, optics, experimental design, and diagnostics.
One example involves work done by a specialized team of PLS experts, who have spent the last two decades focusing on refining the design of NIF targets. The targets are composed of more than 100 specialized components, including the tiny, fuel-filled capsules at their core, which each measure only 2 millimeters in diameter. The group’s recent accomplishments include analyzing and refining design of:
PLS employees also made noteworthy contributions to the recent fusion ignition breakthrough by developing computational models of matter under extreme conditions and sophisticated diagnostics that enable scientists to analyze experimental data, refine the models, and improve experimental design. For example, they developed:
For more than a decade, experts at LLNL’s Nuclear Counting Facility (NCF) have used neutron yield diagnostics to assess NIF shots. Following each fusion experiment, NCF staff analyze coupons retrieved from NIF’s target chamber, using gamma spectrometry to quantify the number of neutrons emitted by the target. This reliable benchmark diagnostic was deployed the day after the recent ignition experiment, with NIF leaders waiting only an hour after handing off the coupons to NCF to obtain an initial assessment of the shot’s yield.
In addition, PLS materials scientists and engineers helped develop a strategy to ensure that LLNL has ongoing access to high-quality optics, capable of withstanding the increasing laser energy used in fusion experiments—including delivering 2.05 megajoules of energy to the target in the recent ignition experiment. Even the tiniest flaws, defects, and contaminants can absorb the laser light and initiate damage that can degrade the optic’s performance. For example, this multidisciplinary team developed:
We are fortunate to have such a talented, dedicated team of experts in PLS who have explored fusion ignition from a variety of angles and contributed to the recent fusion breakthrough.
The 2018 Computational Chemistry and Materials Science (CCMS) Summer Institute will have a special focus on “Quantum Materials and Chemistry” to highlight the science challenges and research opportunities in the development of novel materials for emerging energy and information technologies.
Materials and Chemistry Institute (MaCI) offers a unique summer internship experience. Interns have access to state-of-the-art facilities like the Nanoscale Synthesis and Characterization Laboratory, the Jupiter Laser Facility, the Energetic Materials Center, and the National Ignition Facility.
The mission of the Seaborg Institute is to facilitate the training of the next generation of nuclear scientists. This program offers graduate students the opportunity to work directly with leading LLNL researchers on projects in the areas of nuclear forensics, nuclear chemistry, and environmental radiochemistry.