Laboratory for Laser Energetics - University of Rochester
The University of Rochester’s Laboratory for Laser Energetics (LLE) is a unique national resource for research and education in science and technology and a major asset of the University of Rochester. Established in 1970 as a center for the investigation of the interaction of intense radiation with matter, LLE has a five-fold mission: (1) to conduct laser–fusion implosion experiments in support of the National Inertial Confinement Fusion program; (2) to develop new laser and materials technologies; (3) to provide education in electro-optics, high-power lasers, high-energy-density physics, plasma physics, and nuclear fusion technology; (4) to conduct research and development in advanced technology related to high-energy-density physics; and (5) to operate the National Laser Users’ Facility. The LLE program has been jointly supported by the federal government, state government, industry, utilities, and a university.
Thermonuclear fusion is the process by which nuclei of low atomic weight such as hydrogen combine to form nuclei of higher atomic weight such as helium. Two isotopes of hydrogen, deuterium (composed of a hydrogen nucleus that contains one neutron and one proton) and tritium (a hydrogen nucleus containing two neutrons and one proton), provide the most energetically favorable fusion reactants. In the fusion process, some of the mass of the original nuclei is lost and transformed to energy in the form of high-energy particles. Energy from fusion reactions is the most basic form of energy in the universe; our sun and all other stars produce energy by thermonuclear fusion reactions.
Fusion is the process that gives thermonuclear weapons their awesome power. The most significant long-term potential commercial application of fusion is the generation of electric power. Fusion does not generate nuclear waste, nor does it enhance nuclear proliferation concerns in contrast to existing nuclear fission reactors currently in use. The fuel for fusion, which occurs naturally in seawater, is essentially inexhaustible. To initiate fusion reactions, the fuel must be heated to tens of millions of degrees.
Two approaches are being investigated to demonstrate controlled fusion—magnetic confinement fusion and inertial confinement fusion. Inertial confinement fusion involves the heating and compression of fusion fuel by the action of intense laser or particle beams, where a small spherical target containing fusion fuel is subjected to intense irradiation by high-power sources that implode the target and compress the fuel while heating it to thermonuclear temperatures. When the fusion fuel has been compressed and heated to fusion conditions, “ignition” is possible. Ignition is the process whereby a self-sustaining propagating fusion reaction (thermonuclear burn wave) can occur and produce more energy than was used to bring the target to fusion conditions. The achievement of fusion ignition is a national grand challenge. A demonstration of ignition in the laboratory is a prerequisite to the commercial production of electricity using thermonuclear fusion.
A diverse workforce is vital to thriving science programs in the United States. LLE is actively working towards building a more diverse and inclusive research environment in support of the National Nuclear Security Agency (NNSA) within the Department of Energy (DOE). This includes increasing our workforce diversity of Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) related positions and of a variety of support professionals, including recent graduates and individuals at various stages in their careers, to help our laboratory expand its hiring pool. Workforce participation by the BIPoC communities in the United States is vital to achieving meaningful change and creating an environment of inclusion.