Science Education

Inside the world's most powerful laser

The National Ignition Facility (NIF) -- a laser test facility at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in Livermore, Calif. -- is the world's most powerful laser. Though it faces fiscal challenges, NIF is still capable of unleashing a blast with 500 trillion watts of power. Put that another way: Five hundred terawatts is 1,000 times more power than the United States uses at any instant in time.

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The preamplifiers of the National Ignition Facility are the first step in increasing the energy of laser beams as they make their way toward the target chamber. NIF recently achieved a 500 terawatt shot - 1,000 times more power than the United States uses at any instant in time.
Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory

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The target chamber was assembled from 10-centimeter-thick aluminum panels.
Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory

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This view from the bottom of the chamber shows the target positioner being inserted. Pulses from NIF's high-powered lasers race toward the Target Bay at the speed of light. They arrive at the center of the target chamber within a few trillionths of a second of each other, aligned to the accuracy of the diameter of a human hair.
Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory

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A service system lift allows technicians to access the target chamber interior for inspection and maintenance.
Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory

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In June 1999, after careful preparation, a rotating crane hoisted the target chamber and gently moved it to the Target Bay, a breathtaking event that took only about 30 minutes.
Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory

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Many instruments-detectors, oscilloscopes, interferometers, streak cameras, and other diagnostics-surround the target chamber to measure the system's performance and record experimental results. By characterizing the X-rays generated during NIF experiments, the Dante soft X-ray power diagnostic, shown here, helps scientists understand how well the experiment performed.
Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory

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The NIF final optics system uses plates cut from large Potassium Dihydrogen Phosphate (KDP) crystals to convert laser light from infared to ultraviolet, which is a more favorable wavelength for fusion experiments. The system also focuses the laser light to the center of the target chamber.
Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory

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A metallic case called a hohlraum holds the fuel capsule for NIF experiments. Target handling systems precisely position the target and freeze it to cryogenic temperatures (18 kelvins, or -427 degrees Fahrenheit) so that a fusion reaction is more easily achieved.
Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory

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A leopard image mask created by a NIF programmable spatial shaper (see previous photo) demonstrates the system's high resolution and flexibility, which are enabling new mission capabilities.
Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory

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After the target chamber was lowered into place, the seven-story walls and roof of the Target Bay were completed.
Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory

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The international inertial confinement fusion community, including LLNL researchers, uses the OMEGA laser at the University of Rochester's Laboratory for Laser Energetics to conduct experiments and test target designs and diagnostics.
Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory

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Before optics are installed into the beampath, they undergo precision cleaning and have an antireflection coating applied.
Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory

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Before each experiment, a positioner precisely centers the target inside the target chamber and serves as a reference to align the laser beams.
Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory

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The target positioner and target alignment system precisely locate a target in the NIF target chamber. The target is positioned with an accuracy of less than the thickness of a human hair.
Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory

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The Laser and Target Area Building is the size of three football fields.
Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory

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This potassium dihydrogen phosphate (KDP) crystal, weighing almost 800 pounds, was produced through a newly developed rapid-growth process that takes only two months, as opposed to two years using conventional methods. Each crystal is sliced into 40-centimeter-square crystal plates. More than 600 of these plates were needed for NIF.
Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory

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A NIF hohlraum. The hohlraum cylinder, which contains the NIF fusion fuel capsule, is just a few millimeters wide, about the size of a pencil eraser, with beam entrance holes at either end. The fuel capsule is the size of a small pea.
Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory

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Victor Reis, the Assistant Secretary for the Department of Energy's Defense Programs, played a key leadership role in the 1990s in defining the emerging Stockpile Stewardship Program and the need for the National Ignition Facility.
Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory

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A NIF target contains a polished capsule about two millimeters in diameter, filled with cryogenic (super-cooled) hydrogen fuel.
Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory

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The fabrication of melted and rough-cut blanks of laser glass amplifier slabs needed for NIF construction (3,072 pieces) was completed in 2005. The amplifier slabs are neodymium-doped phosphate glass manufactured by Hoya Corporation, USA and SCHOTT North America, Inc.
Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory

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The target chamber under construction. Holes in the target chamber provide access for the laser beams and viewing ports for NIF diagnostic equipment.
Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory

Inside the world's most powerful laser

The National Ignition Facility (NIF) -- a laser test facility at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in Livermore, Calif. -- is the world's most powerful laser. Though it faces fiscal challenges, NIF is still capable of unleashing a blast with 500 trillion watts of power. Put that another way: Five hundred terawatts is 1,000 times more power than the United States uses at any instant in time.

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