The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) announced today that it has selected the University of Rochester to host a new Fusion Science Center. The DOE gave Riccardo Betti and David Meyerhofer, professors of mechanical engineering and physics and astronomy, $5.5 million to begin and oversee the project. The center will make use of the new ultra-high-intensity laser beam lines currently under construction at the University’s Laboratory for Laser Energetics (LLE), which will be the only facility in the world able to conduct the unimaginably intense experiments.
“We’re very excited to be chosen to lead the way into these new frontiers of physics and energy research.” says Betti. “We'll likely be able to achieve energy densities far greater than even the very core of the sun, learn much about how matter itself behaves under such conditions and explore a promising path towards thermonuclear fusion energy production.”
“The center will be of mutual benefit to LLE and the exceptional scholars across the nation that are part of this center,” says Robert McCrory, director of the Laboratory for Laser Energetics. “The quest for fusion energy will be enhanced by this center. The additional beamlines to be used with the present Omega laser system, known as Omega EP, will allow the first tests of the fast ignitor concept. I congratulate Professor Betti and the other outstanding research scientists across the nation that are part of this new initiative.”
Two fusion centers have been announced; one led by the University of Rochester, and the other led by the University of Maryland and the University of California at Los Angeles. The Rochester-led center will involve participation of MIT, General Atomics, University of California at San Diego, Ohio State University, UCLA and the University of Texas at Austin, and it will include collaboration with the Department of Energy’s National Nuclear Security Administration programs at Rochester and Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory.
“The centers will train students to met the U. S. fusion program’s future needs and help our fusion program communicate about our progress and accomplishments with the broader scientific community,” said Raymond L. Orbach, director of DOE’s Office of Science.
The University’s endeavor will be called the Fusion Center for Extreme States of Matter and Fast Ignition Physics. The center will help develop an understanding of extreme states of matter using a new method to achieve fusion. Currently, facilities like the University’s Omega laser, the most powerful laser in the world, produce fusion by striking a small pellet of hydrogen with laser beams that use 100 times as much power in a billionth of a second as the entire nation’s power grid. The laser both compresses and heats the pellet, producing fusion. Scientists in the new center will explore what happens when the “heating” and “compression” components are separated, by firing on the pellet twice with lasers of different power and duration—first compressing the pellet with the current Omega laser, then heating it with an ultrafast burst from the new beam facility (Omega EP) currently under construction.
The new center in conjunction with the newly enhanced Omega laser, will allow the University to continue at the cutting edge of fusion science by making new experiments possible, such as modeling the very young universe, understanding the quantum world, and studying relativistic laser-matter interactions.
“These two Fusion Science Centers will strengthen basic research into the frontiers of fusion science, a central mission of the department’s fusion energy sciences program,” says Raymond L. Orbach, director of the DOE’s Office of Science. “The centers will train students to meet the U.S. fusion program’s future needs and help our fusion program communicate about our progress and accomplishments with the broader scientific community.”
The Laboratory for Laser Energetics also allows scientists to conduct experiments that are important to increase understanding of U.S. nuclear weapons without the need to conduct underground testing. The high-energy physics experiments at the core of fusion research provide a way for scientists to understand the behavior of materials under extreme conditions. As the largest unclassified inertial fusion laboratory in the world, the Laboratory for Laser Energetics is also an important national source of graduate students trained in the area of high-energy-density physics.
The DOE Office of Science’s fusion energy sciences program is the national basic research effort to advance plasma science, fusion science and fusion technology—the knowledge base needed for an economically and environmentally attractive fusion energy source.