University of Rochester

University of Rochester Professor Riccardo Betti advises Congress on Future of Fusion

November 2, 2009

Betti, an expert in the field of inertial fusion, tells the House that fusion research is at a critical stage

University of Rochester mechanical engineering Professor Riccardo Betti testified before Congress Thursday morning, touting recent achievements on the path to making fusion (the process by which the sun and other stars create energy) a reliable, plentiful, and efficient source of energy, and emphasizing the importance of the government's continued support of fusion research.

Betti was one of five experts invited to speak in front of the House Committee on Science and Technology's Subcommittee on Energy and Environment at a hearing entitled "The Next Generation of Fusion Energy Research."

Fusion energy research is at a critical point, Betti told the subcommittee. In the near future, scientists hope to achieve thermonuclear ignition a never-before accomplished milestone that has been sought for more than 50 years using the newly operational National Ignition Facility (NIF) at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California.

With the NIF laser, which is now the most powerful in the world, scientists will build on work that has been done at the University of Rochester's Laboratory for Laser Energetics (LLE) for decades. In Rochester, LLE's OMEGA and OMEGA EP lasers will continue to support this mission.

In recent years, many fusion research facilities have been operating on shoestring budgets, Betti said, and at such a crucial moment in the history of science, even small funding cuts can have big impacts that have the potential of undermining the larger purpose of the mission.

Betti also stressed that, although there are many challenges to be overcome before fusion is an economically viable energy source, an investment should be made in testing different methods of creating a fusion reaction now. If that research is done concurrently with the research to achieve ignition, then once ignition becomes a reality, society will be able to put it to use more quickly, he said.

Dr. Betti joined the University of Rochester in 1991, after receiving his doctoral degree in nuclear engineering from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He was elected fellow of the American Physical Society in 2001 and has served as vice chair of the U.S. Department of Energy Fusion Energy Science Advisory Committee, chair of the DOE High Energy-Density Laboratory Plasmas panel, and chair of the Plasma Science Committee of the National Academies. Dr. Betti is Director of the Fusion Science Center for Extreme States of Matter, which recently was a awarded $8.2 million from the Department of Energy, and he was recently awarded the Edward Teller Medal for his research into laser-driven fusion at the University's Laboratory for Laser Energetics (LLE).