University of Rochester

Department of Energy's NNSA to Renew its Agreement for Laboratory for Laser Energetics at the University of Rochester

November 21, 2007

Funding for Leading Laboratory in Energy Research May Reach $351 Million Over Next Five Years

Rochester, NY—The U.S. Department of Energy's National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) announced today that it will renew its agreement to support the University of Rochester's Laboratory for Laser Energetics—home of one of the world's most powerful lasers and one of the leading facilities for research into future power sources.

According to Laboratory Director Robert L. McCrory, the five-year contract will make possible up to $351 million in funding and allow the Laboratory's more than 500 employees and students to continue their research into the development of controlled, thermonuclear fusion energy sources and high energy density physics. The Laboratory will complete the construction of the gigantic Omega EP laser in 2008, which when it begins operation will be the most powerful laser on Earth.

"The Laboratory is a jewel of the University of Rochester," said University of Rochester President Joel Seligman. "It is a vital component of our nation's scientific capital and leadership, a key to strategic work on an independent energy future, and a crucial part of the high-tech economy of upstate New York. Its most important contribution is in the new knowledge and scientific training opportunities it provides. It also makes a vital contribution to the local economy, including $49 million last year in local expenditures. This strong vote of confidence ensures that those contributions will continue to flow."

"As NNSA's largest university-based research program, the university's laser program plays a unique role supporting NNSA's national security mission and is an integral part of our high energy density research program," said Thomas P. D'Agostino, Administrator of the National Nuclear Security Administration. "They have made many important contributions to NNSA over the years and I look forward to another five years of scientific and technological excellence from the University of Rochester."

The funding will also ensure that the Laboratory's leading role in lasers and high intensity optics—and the long history of optics leadership by the University of Rochester and the Rochester area—will continue, McCrory said. McCrory also noted that the University of Rochester's Laboratory for Laser Energetics (LLE) has been the only inertial confinement fusion (ICF) program and High-Energy-Density-Physics (HEDP) program jointly supported by the federal and state government, industry, utilities, and a university. The partnership of LLE, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory and the National Nuclear Security Administration is essential in the campaign to achieve thermonuclear ignition in the laboratory. LLE is one of the institutional partners in the National Ignition Facility, a $3.5 billion laser to be completed at Livermore in 2009. This facility will be used to conduct ignition experiments beginning in 2010.

"LLE is an absolutely unique resource not found at any other American university," University Provost Ralph Kuncl has said, "and it has brought us unparalleled recognition. This decision by the NNSA ensures that the Laboratory will continue its vital work to the benefit of the nation, of science, and of Rochester."

The Laboratory for Laser Energetics was first established in 1970 "to investigate the interaction of intense radiation with matter." Because lasers can be focused to produce extremely high energy densities in matter, the Laboratory has since that time developed and used for research some of the most powerful lasers ever created, including the current Omega laser, whose multi-trillion watt bursts of laser energy are for tiny fractions of a second one-hundred times more powerful than the entire electrical generating capacity of the United States. Omega EP, designed to help prove the viability of laser-induced fusion energy, will be 50 times more powerful even than Omega, opening to exploration a wealth of new physics in energy research, stellar dynamics, laser and materials technologies, electro-optics, plasma physics and other areas.

LLE was established with funding from the University of Rochester, the state of New York and private industry. With growing support from the Department of Energy beginning in 1975, the Laboratory also operates the National Laser Users Facility and attracts as many as 300 additional scientists each year from national laboratories, universities, and companies from the United States and other nations.

It is also, according to McCrory, an excellent example of the return on investment that can come from scientific research. From a venture capital perspective, the initial University investment of approximately $10.4 million in 1975 has allowed the Laboratory to attract cumulative external funding, primarily from the federal government, of more than $1.17 billion, he said. The funding includes an important investment by New York State in the upstate economy by the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority. These figures do not include the contributions made by high-tech companies founded in the area whose technology or founders came out of the Laboratory.

NYSERDA president and CEO Paul D. Tonko said, "Research and development activities at our universities create new and innovative energy technologies that will benefit the state and the nation by reducing our dependence on foreign oil, shrinking our carbon footprint and making us more energy efficient. This investment will help the University of Rochester continue its scientific mission for years to come and, at the same time, strengthen the upstate economy."

McCrory explained that although the NNSA contract provides base funding of $276 million based on current financial planning projections for the next five years, the laboratory has historically received additional appropriations to fully fund its activities, and he expects that to occur during this contract period as well, for an expected total of $351 million. The NNSA has accepted and approved the proposal for the full $351 million. Funding is appropriated annually by Congress.

In addition to its vital roles in various areas of scientific research and its support of the local high-tech economy, the Laboratory also plays an important part in educating the next generation of scientists and engineers. McCrory proudly points to the more than 190 Ph.D. recipients trained at the Laboratory, many of whom have gone on to work in national laboratories and private industry. The Laboratory currently supports 65 graduate students conducting their doctoral research.

Because the Laboratory is located on a University campus rather than being a national laboratory, undergraduates and even area high school students are able to benefit from the Laboratory's resources. Approximately 45 undergraduates work each year at the Laboratory. During the summer, approximately 15 high school students participate in a summer research program that has propelled many of them to highly placed finishes at national science competitions, including the Intel Science Talent Search, and to successful careers in science.

"The Laser Lab is important to Rochester's economy, it's important to our national security, and it's important to the nation's scientific community," said Senator Charles E. Schumer. "This is great news for Rochester, the university, and the hundreds employed at the laser lab."

"The decision by the U.S. Department of Energy to provide this federal funding to the Laboratory for Laser Energetics is great news for the University of Rochester and for the entire Greater Rochester area," said Senator Hillary Clinton. "This amazing facility, which provides hundreds of jobs to the community, also draws the world's top scientists to the area to explore fusion research using some of the most power lasers on the planet. These federal funds will allow the University and region to continue to operate at the forefront of fusion technology and optical sciences, while promoting research with the potential to benefit the entire country."

"This agreement is terrific news for the University of Rochester and the surrounding communities," said Representative Louise Slaughter. "With these funds, the University of Rochester will continue to advance as a world leader in the scientific field, while ensuring Western New York stays at the forefront of technology and innovation."

"The success and growth of the Laser Lab is a critical part of our region's ability to compete globally," said Congressman Jim Walsh. "As we evolve from a manufacturing-based to a knowledge-based economy, world-class facilities like this will allow us to continue to retain and recruit the best talent to Rochester and Upstate New York."

"Employing more than 400 western New Yorkers, the Laboratory for Laser Energetics of the University of Rochester is essential to the growth of our community and ensures Rochester is on the cutting edge of technology," said Congressman Thomas Reynolds. "I was pleased to learn that the Department of Energy will continue to fund the laboratory. As a leader in optical science, the laboratory has built some of the world's most powerful lasers and is the primary research facility for national weapons labs."

"Our nation needs a strong energy plan to help us meet our current and future needs and the LLE may prove to be a clean and unlimited form of energy," said Representative Randy Kuhl, a member of the House Caucus for Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency.

NYSERDA President and CEO, Paul D. Tonko said, "Research and development activities at our universities create new and innovative energy technologies that will benefit the state and the nation by reducing our dependence on foreign oil, shrinking our carbon footprint and making us more energy efficient. This investment will help the University of Rochester continue its scientific mission for years to come and, at the same time, strengthen the upstate economy."