University of Rochester

Rochester's Omega Laser, One of the World's Most Powerful, Receives 50-Fold Power Increase to Become 'Petawatt' Laser

May 16, 2008

Enhancement to Fusion Laser Announced Today at the Laboratory for Laser Energetics

The University of Rochester will mark another important step in the effort toward attaining sustainable fusion, the ultimate source of clean energy, Friday, May 16. University President Joel Seligman, along with special guests, who include U.S. Senator Charles Schumer, U.S. Representative Thomas Reynolds, and Undersecretary and National Nuclear Security Administration Administrator Thomas D'Agostino, will dedicate the new Omega EP (Extended Performance) laser facility at the Robert L. Sproull Center for Ultra High Intensity Laser Research at the Laboratory for Laser Energetics (LLE).

The Omega EP comprises a new set of four ultra-high-intensity laser beams that will unleash more than a petawatt—a million billion watts—of power onto a target just a millimeter across. Working in conjunction with LLE's original 60-beam Omega laser, the Omega EP will open the door to a new concept called "fast ignition," which may be able to dramatically increase the energy derived from fusion experiments and provide a possible new avenue toward clean fusion power. If successful, fast ignition could lead to the highest energy densities ever achieved in a laboratory.

"I look forward to the profound scientific contributions the Omega EP extension will bring to the University and to the world," says 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 vital part of the local economy, including $44 million in local expenditures just last year."

"Over the years, the University of Rochester's Laboratory for Laser Energetics has consistently brought Upstate New York's high-tech sector to the forefront of energy innovation," says Schumer. "It is a vital national resource as well as an economic boon to Rochester and to the entire Finger Lakes region. I was proud to secure over $61 million to support their efforts last year and will continue to look for ways in which the federal government can further collaborate with this dynamic laboratory in the future."

"Employing more than 500 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," says Reynolds. "The new Omega EP laser is truly remarkable and serves as a clear demonstration of how our region remains a leader in world-class innovation. The Omega EP's success is a testament to the scientists, engineers, technicians, and students who made the project possible."

The original Omega laser fires multi-trillion watt bursts of energy—more powerful than the entire electrical generating capacity of the United States—making it among the three most powerful lasers in the world. Yet Omega will become approximately 50 times more powerful still with the inclusion of Omega EP. Such incredible intensities are necessary because creating electricity from fusion means heating the target fuel to a high temperature and confining it long enough so that more energy is released than is supplied to sustain the reaction. To release energy at a level required for electricity production, the fusion fuel must be heated to about 100 million degrees, more than six times hotter than the interior of the Sun.

Fusion, nuclear fission and solar energy, which includes biofuels, are widely seen as the only energy sources capable of satisfying the growing need for power for the next century without the harmful environmental impacts of fossil fuels. In a fusion power plant, one gallon of seawater would provide the equivalent energy of 300 gallons of gasoline; fuel from 50 cups of water contains the energy equivalent of two tons of coal. A fusion power plant would produce no climate-changing gases, as well as considerably less environmentally harmful radioactive byproducts than nuclear power plants currently do. And there would be no danger of a runaway reaction or core meltdown in a fusion power plant.

Beyond clean energy production, Omega and Omega EP will facilitate research impossible to attempt almost anywhere else on Earth. The way matter behaves in stars can be replicated on a small scale inside Omega's target chamber. Laser and materials technologies, electro-optics, and plasma physics will also be able to be studied under conditions never before possible.

About the Laboratory for Laser Energetics

The LLE was first established in 1970 "to investigate the interaction of intense radiation with matter." 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 $1.3 billion, including a five-year $352 million commitment last year from the Department of Energy. This support is thanks to the strong support the Laboratory receives from both the Administration and the U.S. Congress. The funding also 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 Rochester area whose technology or founders came from the Laboratory.

The Omega EP's extended capabilities also will contribute substantially to the critical need to recruit and retain graduate students, postdoctoral associates, University faculty members, and National laboratory scientists—especially while the National Ignition Facility (NIF) at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, which is designed to achieve controlled thermonuclear ignition and gain, nears completion. The Laboratory is one of the four institutional participants in NIF.

Laboratory Director Robert L. McCrory also 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.

Research scientists from throughout the world, U.S. national laboratories, universities, and industry travel to Rochester to use the Omega laser facilities. LLE has provided qualified researchers with a unique environment for experiments in inertial fusion and high-energy-density physics.

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.




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