This battle station is ‘fully operational’

Lawrence Livermore Lab Laser
This chamber amplifies the laser beam at Lawrence Livermore Lab's National Ignition Facility to never-before observed levels. (Damien Jemison/LLNL)

As most of you out there in Readerland might already know, I’m pretty science-illiterate.

So the second I saw Steven Brown’s piece in the SF Business Journal about a record-breaking laser shot earlier this month by the Lawrence Livermore Labs, I had to put my “Science For Dummies” skills to the test.

Why is this laser so revolutionary?

First off: The accomplishment  was achieved at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory’s National Ignition Facility and is an important step for scientists harnessing the power of nuclear fusion.

Even more impressive: This massive blast of energy combined 192 lasers pinpointed on a single target to deliver 500 terawatts of power.

Just how much power is 500 terawatts? How about 1,000 times more juice than the entire United States consumes at any given moment.


Even though I’m easily confused by big numbers, that is a big deal.

This breakthrough laser is 100 times more powerful than any other laser today. No word of what happened to Alderaan the poor little 2-millimeter target this beast was trained on.

Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory has been working on this laser triumph for at least 15 years. Laser fusion has been on the lab’s research platter since the 1980s, including work with magnetic containers to contain the intense plasma-tic heat given off.

NIF Director Edward Moses praised his team, saying decades of work is paying off:

“NIF is becoming everything scientists planned when it was conceived over two decades ago. It is fully operational … and providing experimental access to user communities for national security, basic science and the quest for clean fusion energy.”

The extensive work at the National Ignition Facility is influencing laser fusion experiments in countries around the world, including China, Japan, Russia, the United Kingdom and France.

(Yes, even though France wants to boycott California wine, they’re still taking notes on our science.)

So cheers to Lawrence Livermore Labs on their milestone, 15 years in the making, and to their laser fusion shot of 500 tera-whatsits. How long before the portable version hits Wal-Mart shelves?

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