On July 5th, the scientists at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory’s National Ignition Facility (NIF) fired the most powerful laser shot ever, exceeding 500 terawatts using 192 beams of ultraviolet light. Not only does this exceed the NIF’s 411 terawatt record back in March, but at 1.85 megajoules this shot spent over 1,000 times as much energy as the entire US uses at any give moment.
The shot was focused on a 2mm target with an accuracy within one percent of expectations. The scientists at the NIF are attempting to develop not only the most powerful laser, but also the most reproducible results. They’ve worked closely with their industrial partners to “drastically reduce” the number of minuscule defects in the lasers’ optics.
Regarding the July 5th firing, NIF director Edward Moses said that the “NIF is becoming everything scientists planned when it was conceived over two decades ago,” and that “[the facility] is fully operational, and scientists are taking important steps toward achieving ignition and providing experimental access to user communities for national security, basic science and the quest for clean fusion energy.” The NIF can’t rest on its laurels, however, as there are other institutions striving to achieve similar results.