The world's largest laser, housed in the National Ignition Facility at Livermore, California, and which science-fiction fans will recognize from the film "Star Trek: Into Darkness," will test the new breakthrough in energy technology: nuclear fusion.
For Arthur Pak, an experimental physicist at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, the work on the new breakthrough is just the beginning. What follows next for Pak and countless other scientists is to do it bigger and better.
According to The Oregonian, in the past several months, it was clear to scientists they were getting close to a breakthrough. On one occasion, around predawn hours, Pak checked for a critical number showing whether efforts were successful.
"When I saw that number," Pak said, "I was blown away."
"You can work your whole career and never see this moment. You're doing it because you believe in the destination, and you like the challenge," he added. "When humans come together and work collectively, we can do amazing things."
On Dec. 13, in Washington, D.C., scientists announced that the Ignition Facility at the LLNL achieved "ignition," where "the laser shot produced fusion reactions generating 3.15 megajoules of power, topping the 2.05 megajoules imparted by the laser."
The next test for the team at LLNL will likely occur in February, with more experiments to follow in the months after. Their goal would be to tinker with the amount of laser energy or increase the output altogether. One such experiment, noted by the Oregonian, could even be to upgrade the facility itself, which would likely require input from the Energy Department and a tremendous amount of funding.
But the whole process toward meaningful development of nuclear fusion could take years, if not decades, based on the current standpoint of experiments.
"Can we make it simpler? Can we make this process easier and more repeatable? Can we begin to do it more than one time a day?" Kim Budil, the director of the Lawrence Livermore lab, asked. "Each of these is an incredible scientific and engineering challenge for us."
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