DOE renews commitment to LLE

U.S. Secretary of Energy Federico Peña announced on Thursday a $143.4 million, five-year renewal of a cooperative agreement with the University of Rochester's Laboratory for Laser Energetics, which plays a crucial role in the nation's research into laser fusion and fundamental high-energy-density science.

"Rochester has had a long and successful commitment to laser fusion research and has produced outstanding technical and academic achievements," Secretary Peña said.

"I'm glad the University has this commitment from the Department of Energy. Rochester continues to be a central location for technology and innovation, and I'm proud of the University's strong contributions," said U.S. Representative Louise Slaughter.

Basic-science experiments conducted on the OMEGA laser are valuable in investigating matter under extreme conditions. These experiments closely duplicate certain conditions found only in the sun and other stars or inside a nuclear weapon as it is detonated. They also help in assessing the potential of inertial fusion as an inexhaustible commercial energy source.

Among other goals, this laser research plays a critical role in the Energy Department's plan to ensure the safety and reliability of the nation's nuclear weapons stockpile without underground nuclear tests.

"Fusion research at LLE and elsewhere helps scientists understand aging and other subtle physical effects on nuclear stockpiles over time," said Robert McCrory, laboratory director. "Obviously, we're not performing research on weapons themselves; it's a matter of high-energy physics experiments, done at extreme temperatures and densities, that allow us to understand the properties of nuclear materials.

"The same basic research also has a payoff in terms of understanding the principles behind fusion energy and perhaps other basic physical interactions with benefits to society that can't be foreseen at this point."

Since 1995, when the OMEGA laser was upgraded, it has been able to focus highly uniform ultraviolet radiation from 60 high power laser beams on a small fuel pellet in the quest for fusion.

Many of the techniques invented and refined at Rochester for using ultraviolet light as a more efficient power source are now used in inertial confinement fusion experiments worldwide and for other applications in the optics industry.

Rochester's OMEGA program is regarded as a world leader in the development of "direct-drive" inertial fusion focusing laser beams directly on a target. OMEGA also has the capability to conduct experiments on "indirect-drive," where the laser beams produce x-rays that in turn are used to irradiate a target.

Both indirect and direct drive approaches can be used at the National Ignition Facility now under construction at Livermore in California.

The University of Rochester has awarded 106 Ph.D. degrees to students who performed all or part of their research at the laser laboratory. More than 400 students have received training at the lab -- both undergraduates and graduate students participate in research there -- and at least 14 students have received Ph.D.'s at other institutions through their work at the University through the laboratory's role as a National Laser Users Facility, also an Energy Department-sponsored program.

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