The National Ignition Facility (NIF) is the world's largest laser. NIF's 192 intense laser beams can deliver to a target more than 100 times the energy of any previous laser system. NIF became operational in March 2009 and is capable of directing nearly two million joules of ultraviolet laser energy in billionth-of-a-second pulses to the target chamber center.
When all that energy slams into millimeter-sized targets, it can generate unprecedented temperatures and pressures in the target materials—temperatures of more than 100 million degrees and pressures more than 100 billion times Earth's atmosphere. These conditions are similar to those in the stars and the cores of giant planets or in nuclear weapons; thus, one of the NIF & Photon Science Directorate's missions is to provide a better understanding of the complex physics of nuclear weapons. Researchers can also explore basic science, such as astrophysical phenomena, materials science, and nuclear science. NIF's other major mission is to provide scientists with the physics understanding necessary to create fusion ignition and energy gain for future energy production.
The National Ignition Facility (NIF) is operational and is the premier high energy density science facility in the world. A major focus of NIF is a national effort to demonstrate ignition and thermonuclear burn in the laboratory. NIF also conducts a variety of experiments to study matter at the extremes, including studies of material properties, hydrodynamics, and the interaction of intense radiation fields with matter. NIF experimental capabilities are now also available to the broader scientific community via the current call for proposals for NIF experiments in fundamental science.
The journey over the last 18 years to bring the NIF to where it is today will be discussed in this presentation. As a key member of the management team, Valerie Roberts will describe the efforts which have led to the success of this experimental facility — from ground breaking of the facility to present operations and looking forward to the hope of fusion energy.