The U.S. Department of Energy has awarded $8.2 million to the University of Rochester to support its Fusion Science Center for Extreme States of Matter for another five years. The funding represents a 50 percent increase over the previous $5.5 million grant, which founded the center in 2004.

Riccardo Betti, Chuang Ren and David Meyerhofer, professors of mechanical engineering and physics and astronomy, oversee the project, which makes use of the lasers at the University's Laboratory for Laser Energetics (LLE), including the new ultra-high-intensity laser beam lines of the Omega EP.

"In conjunction with the newly enhanced Omega laser, this fusion center has allowed us to make important strides in performing cutting-edge physics research in advanced fusion concepts," says Betti, the center's director. "We've been able to develop new fusion schemes and learn more about relativistic laser-matter interactions, which are so important in our quest to make fusion a viable energy source for the future."

"... This fusion center has allowed us to make important strides in performing cutting-edge physics research in advanced fusion concepts."
óDr. Riccardo Betti, Professor of Mechanical Engineering and Physics

The fusion center helps physicists develop an understanding of extreme states of matter using new methods to achieve fusion. The University's Omega laser produces fusion by striking a small pellet of hydrogen with laser beams that use 10 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, but in the new center, scientists explore if more energy can be derived if the heating and compression components are separated. After compressing the pellet with the original Omega laser beams, the new Omega EP beams fire an ultra-brief burst of energy, heating the pellet and releasing the energy. A new fusion scheme developed by the center makes use of a single laser operated in two different modes: a low-power mode to slowly compress the pellet, and a high-power mode to drive a shock wave to ignite the hydrogen fuel inside the pellet.

In addition to astrophysics and energy research, the LLE 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 such 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 Rochester-led center involves the participation of MIT, General Atomics, the University of California at San Diego, Ohio State University, UCLA, University of Nevada at Reno and the University of Texas at Austin, and it includes collaboration with the Department of Energy's National Nuclear Security Administration programs at Rochester and Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory.