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Fusion, Lasers, and Cleantech Research on a Grand Scale

Thanks to a friend who is an engineer at Livermore, last weekend I had a chance to visit Livermore Labs and the National Ignition Facility when LLNL had a once in 7 years family and friends day. All in all and amazing experience.

The highlight of the show was a tour of NIF, “the world’s largest and highest energy laser“. As far as I can wrap my head around, it’s a massive building consisting of one single, tremendous piece of test equipment, hereby known as “that big fusion tester in Livermore”. Which of course has its own mascot, Niffy, a replica of the baby mammoth whose remains were unearthed during the construction.

Essentially the entirety of NIF exists to hold and direct 192 lasers that after being pumped to full power can be directed at a single millimeter sized target (holding deuterium and tritium) triggering a tiny fusion reaction inside a 30 foot chamber, consisting of the target and a set of extremely intense cameras.

The basic goals of the facility, which is many times larger than Livermore’s previous largest laser, are to enable testing and simulations for fusion bombs with out having to conduct underground tests, and provide a platform for basic research on inertial fusion energy for power, which they are set to begin experiments on in 2010. The construction on the facility is now complete, and they are taking it through full commissioning this year and next.

And speaking of swords to plowshares, who says basic research in the US is dead?

Neal Dikeman is a partner at merchant bank Jane Capital Partners LLC, and Chairman of Carbonflow and Cleantech.org, and a the founding blogger of Cleantech Blog.com. He previously cofounded superconductor firm Zenergy Power, and is a Texas Aggie.