The Science of Sustainability

Super Laser

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It's one of the most expensive high-tech projects the United States has ever attempted, and some say it will never work. QUEST visits the National Ignition Facility in Livermore, where scientists will soon aim the world's largest laser at a target the size of a pencil eraser. The goal? Nuclear fusion — and, they say, the answer to the world's clean energy needs.

You may listen to the "Super Laser" radio report online, as well as find additional links and resources. Also don't miss our behind-the-scenes photos for this report.

Amy Standen is a Reporter for QUEST and Radio News at KQED-FM.

latitude: 37.6871, longitude: -121.697

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Category: Physics, Radio

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About the Author ()

Amy Standen is a radio reporter for KQED Science. Her email is astanden@kqed.org and you can follow her on Twitter at @amystanden.
  • http://www.mosnas2.blogspot.com geezerpower

    Thanks for the excellent article. I wasn't aware of this mind boggling project. Of special interest to me is that it links to Gregory Canavan who was the head of the Office of Fusion Energy Sciences for Bu$hco.

    I'm doing an article on his involvement in the Terrorism Preparedness for FDNY. He was on a panel that included ex CIA James Woolsey et al, along with the lead fire chiefs who testified on the 911 disaster. I have to question whether it is a bit over the top to use folks of this caliber to dumb down the FDNY…G:

  • Yves Parent

    This is amazing! They will make all the energy we need out of water! with no environmental impact!

    I also recall that they also said they could make gold out of lead.

  • DENOS

    You can't imagine the amount energy at the focal point of this thing. It could bore a hole through the Earth. It could become an ultimate weapon. I myself amplified three gas lasers with high speed electromagnetic switching that was able to focus on an object at over a mile and punch a hole in a sheet of metal, and this thing is about 1×10 to the 23rd times more powerful or more. So yes, the energy and pressure produced would be extremely dangerous if it ever got out the controlled laboratory environment. Talk about the biggest raygun ever known WOW

  • tomm174

    This project provides an environment for the investigation of the behaviour of a high density plasma with an energy of around 10 thousand electron volts.
    It is of course a deeply impressive facility.
    Is it useful ?
    I can think of 3 applications.
    1/ Investigate the processes that drive stars
    2/ Investigate the feasability of laser ignited fusion power generation
    3/ Get around the ban on H-bomb research.
    Nice though it would be to believe that the first 2 are the motivation, it seems much more likely that the funding was found to preserve the careers of weapons scientists.

    1/ Helping astrophysicists is nice – but probably unnecessary – 10kev is a an extremely LOW energy compared to that generated in accelerators. This machine generates these lowish energy particles at a very high density, – which I suppose could result in some interesting new physics – maybe. .
    (I have seen a suggestion that the machine could be used to test supernova processes, but the quoted performance seem quite inadequate).
    2/ Low carbon power generation is an immediate need. We have technologies which will definitely work & only require production volume to deliver. This technology is unproven in the sense that there is no indication that it could ever provide useful power. If it could, assume a minimum of four generations of machines to achieve production scale, you are talking 40 yrs.

  • frank

    have they ever thought of the enviorment. the may say that is will provide or use clean energy right. well havent they thought that the materials that they use to make the laser. if you are with me email me or call me

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  • Udummo

    YAY! NUCLEAR STUFF!