Uncovering a novel way to bring to Earth the energy that powers the sun and stars
From left: PPPL physicists Ken Hill, Lan Gao, and Brian Kraus; image of the National Ignition Facility. Credit: Kiran Sudarsanan

There are fusion facilities that use lasers to compress the fuel that produces fusion energy. The fusion process that drives the sun and stars could be improved thanks to the new data.

The hot, charged state of matter composed of free electrons and atomic nuclei is generated by fusion. Scientists are trying to duplicate fusion on Earth in order to have a constant supply of power.

Major experimental facilities include tokamaks, the magnetic fusion devices thatPPPL studies; stellarators, the magnetic fusion machines thatPPPL also studies and have recently become more widespread around the world; and laser devices used in what are called insturments.

The researchers looked at the impact of adding the metal to the outer layer of the fuel to see if it made a difference. There are implosions that cause fusion reactions in the pellet. The temperature at the center of the pellet would be raised because of the blocking of heat.

The research team used a type of gas called krypton gas to confirm the findings. High-energy light known as X-rays can be captured by an instrument called a high-resolution X-ray spectrometer. There were clues in the X-rays.

I was excited to see that we could use the technique we have been developing for a long time. This information helps us evaluate the pellet's implosion and helps researchers calibrate their computer simulations. Researchers can use simulations and theoretical understanding to design better experiments.

The experiments were done at the National Ignition Facility. The facility shines 192 lasers onto a gold cylinder that is one centimeters tall. The X-rays are reflected onto the fuel pellet by the lasers.

Brian Kraus said it was like an X-ray bath. That's why it's a good idea to use one. It's difficult to get even coverage with lasers on the fuel pellet.

To make the heating more efficient, researchers want to understand how the pellet is compressed. Information about the pellet's interior is hard to get. Kraus said that the material is very dense. It's difficult to find something that can pass through the fuel pellet's shell.

The results presented in Lan's paper are important to fusion and provide a new method of characterization.

The researchers used a high-resolution X-ray analyzer to measure the X-rays with more detail than before. The team was able to see how the X-rays changed over time.

The size and density of the pellet core could be estimated more precisely thanks to that information. The evidence we provided showed that adding a metal increases the density and temperature of the pellet. fusion yield goes up.

She said that they were looking forward to collaborating with theoretical, computational, and experimental teams.

More information: Lan Gao et al, Hot Spot Evolution Measured by High-Resolution X-Ray Spectroscopy at the National Ignition Facility, Physical Review Letters (2022). DOI: 10.1103/PhysRevLett.128.185002 Journal information: Physical Review Letters