Record-Breaking Nuclear Fusion Experiment Achieves Historic Plasma Milestone

The secret behind a record-breaking nuclear fusion experiment that spit out 10 quadrillion watt of power in a split second has been revealed.

Live Science reported on the record release of 1.3 megajoules of energy for 100 trillionths of a second at the National Ignition Facility.

The fusion took place at the heart of the world's most powerful laser system, thanks to the precision engineering of the tiny cavity and fuel capsule.

The fusion reaction output was equal to 10 percent of all the energy from sunlight that hits Earth, the researchers reported.

The fusion reactor in China is five times hotter than the Sun.

The researchers said that the fusion process heated the remaining fuel into a hot spot to enable further fusion reactions.

A burning plasma is when heating from the fusion reactions becomes the dominant source of heating in the plasma, more than required to initiate or jump-start the fusion.

The co-author of a study published in Nature on the same day as the one on how the NIF was designed to achieve the burning plasma is also the lead author of that study.

Nuclear fusion powers stars like the sun. It is different from nuclear fission, which is used in power plants here on Earth to generate energy by splitting heavy atomic nuclei into smaller atomic nuclei.

Nuclear fusion releases a lot of energy when atomic nuclei are fused together.

Nuclear fusion is fueled by hydrogen and researchers hope it can one day be used as a clean power source.

The fusion reactions take place at high pressures because stars are very large. fusion reactions must take place at very high temperatures because of the impossibility of such pressures here on Earth.

According to Gay-Lussac's law, as the temperature of a gas increases, so does the pressure.

Different experimenters suggest different methods for maintaining a fusion reaction at high temperatures, and the National Ignition Facility specializes in an approach calledinertial confinement.

It creates high temperatures by hitting a tiny pellet of hydrogen at the center using 192 high-powered lasers, which consume huge amounts of energy and can only be fired once a day or so.

It's a long way from being a viable power source, even though the approach was used for testing thermonuclear weapons.

The NIF has recently achieved high energy outputs, if only for a short time. The experiment in August came close to yielding as much energy from the fuel pellet as was put into it, and the researchers expect future experiments to be even more powerful.

Inertial confinement

The two new studies show that in the months before the 10 quadrillion watt reaction, burning plasma experiments resulted in the production of 170 kilojoules of energy from a pellet of just 200 micrograms of hydrogen fuel.

It was accomplished by carefully shaping the fuel capsule, a tiny spherical shell of polycarbonate diamond that enclosed the pellet, and the cavity that contained it.

The new designs allowed the NIF lasers that heated the pellet to operate more efficiently within the hohlraum, and the hot shell of the capsule to rapidly expand outward, with the result that the fuel fused.

Physicist Alex Zylstra told Live Science that this is significant as it is a necessary step on the way to producing large amounts of energy from fusion. Zylstra is the lead author of a study about the initial burning plasma experiments.

Although many more scientific milestones will be needed before fusion can be utilized as a power source, the step of achieving a burning plasma will allow scientists to learn more about the process.

Zylstra said that burning plasmas are now in a new regime where they can be studied.

The breakthrough will yield a better understanding of nuclear fusion that can be used in other fusion reactions, such as those that take place in tokamaks, and not just reactions achieved through inertial confinement fusion.

She said that the work is important as it provides access to a new regime of plasma physics which will provide a wealth of understanding for the entire fusion community.

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The article was published by Live Science. The original article can be found here.