Nav: Home

Toward limitless energy: National Ignition Facility focus of symposium, Aug. 19-20

August 19, 2009

WASHINGTON, Aug. 19, 2009 -- Chemists are preparing to play an important but often unheralded role in determining the success of one of the largest and most important scientific experiments in history -- next year's initial attempts at the National Ignition Facility (NIF) to produce the world's first controlled nuclear fusion reaction. If successful in taming the energy source of the sun, stars, and of the hydrogen bomb, scientists could develop a limitless new source of producing electricity for homes, factories, and businesses. The experiment could also lead to new insights into the origins of the universe. A special two-day symposium addressing this topic, "Nuclear Diagnostics in Fusion Energy Research," will be presented Aug. 19 and 20 during the 238th National Meeting of the American Chemical Society (ACS).

Scientists have been trying to achieve controlled nuclear fusion for almost 50 years. In 2010, researchers at the NIF at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California will focus the energy of 192 giant laser beams onto a pea-sized target filled with hydrogen fuel. These lasers represent the world's highest-energy laser system. The scientists hope that their effort will ignite, or fuse, the hydrogen atoms' nuclei to trigger the high energy reaction.

"Chemists will definitely play a role in determining whether nuclear fusion reactions have occurred during this NIF experiment, which is key to determining whether the experiment is a success," says Dawn Shaughnessy, Ph.D., a scientist with Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory.

"The idea is that the lasers will fuse hydrogen particles together, producing neutrons," says Shaughnessy, one of many scientists who plan to analyze materials produced by the reaction. "We'll collect and measure the materials produced from the ignition and hopefully be able to determine how many neutrons were made. More neutrons mean that more fusion has occurred."

NIF Science Director Richard Boyd, Ph.D., says that the NIF facility will offer unprecedented opportunities to advance the field of nuclear chemistry, with a special focus on nuclear reaction studies and the nuclear reactions of astrochemistry, the chemistry of outer space.

"A facility like this has never before been available to do experiments in nuclear chemistry," says Boyd, who is also co-chair of the special ACS symposium. "We're going where people have never gone before, and that could lead to some exciting, and possibly unanticipated, discoveries."

The NIF building is ten stories tall and has the width of three football fields. The facility, which is 95 percent complete, has taken more than a decade to build at an estimated cost $3.5 billion. Next year, its 192 intense laser beams will deliver to its target more than 60 times the energy of any previous laser system. For more information about the facility, visit https://lasers.llnl.gov

Scientists in France, the United Kingdom, Japan, and China are also developing laser fusion facilities. The ones in France and China will be similar to NIF, but NIF will begin operating several years before the other two. The facilities in Japan and the U.K. will be less powerful than NIF; they will try to achieve fusion with a somewhat different technique than that used initially at NIF. None of these facilities could produce a dangerous condition, Boyd says. As soon as the target's fuel is expended -- in just a few billionths of a second -- the reaction stops, he points out.
-end-
The American Chemical Society is a nonprofit organization chartered by the U.S. Congress. With more than 154,000 members, ACS is the world's largest scientific society and a global leader in providing access to chemistry-related research through its multiple databases, peer-reviewed journals and scientific conferences. Its main offices are in Washington, D.C., and Columbus, Ohio.

EDITOR'S NOTE: Dawn Shaughnessy's paper, NUCL 135 ("Gaseous sample collection at the National Ignition Facility"), will be presented at 10:55 a.m. on Wednesday, August 19, at the Renaissance Washington, Room 4, during the "Nuclear Diagnostics in Fusion Energy Research" symposium.

Summaries of the Shaughnessy's paper and other selected symposium papers follow, below. Please note that starting times and locations may vary.

American Chemical Society

Related Chemistry Articles:

Coordination chemistry and Alzheimer's disease
It has become evident recently that the interactions between copper and amyloid-β neurotoxically impact the brain of patients with Alzheimer's disease.
Can ionic liquids transform chemistry?
Table salt is a commonplace ingredient in the kitchen, but a different kind of salt is at the forefront of chemistry innovation.
Principles for a green chemistry future
A team led by researchers from the Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies recently authored a paper featured in Science that outlines how green chemistry is essential for a sustainable future.
Sugar changes the chemistry of your brain
The idea of food addiction is a very controversial topic among scientists.
Reflecting on the year in chemistry
A lot can happen in a year, especially when it comes to science.
Better chemistry through tiny antennae
A research team at The University of Tokyo has developed a new method for actively controlling the breaking of chemical bonds by shining infrared lasers on tiny antennae.
Chemistry in motion
For the first time, researchers have managed to view previously inaccessible details of certain chemical processes.
Researchers enrich silver chemistry
Researchers from Russia and Saudi Arabia have proposed an efficient method for obtaining fundamental data necessary for understanding chemical and physical processes involving substances in the gaseous state.
The chemistry behind kibble (video)
Have you ever thought about how strange it is that dogs eat these dry, weird-smelling bits of food for their entire lives and never get sick of them?
Top 10 chemistry start-ups
Starting a new chemistry-based company is one part discovery, one part risk.
More Chemistry News and Chemistry Current Events

Trending Science News

Current Coronavirus (COVID-19) News

Top Science Podcasts

We have hand picked the top science podcasts of 2020.
Now Playing: TED Radio Hour

Listen Again: Reinvention
Change is hard, but it's also an opportunity to discover and reimagine what you thought you knew. From our economy, to music, to even ourselves–this hour TED speakers explore the power of reinvention. Guests include OK Go lead singer Damian Kulash Jr., former college gymnastics coach Valorie Kondos Field, Stockton Mayor Michael Tubbs, and entrepreneur Nick Hanauer.
Now Playing: Science for the People

#562 Superbug to Bedside
By now we're all good and scared about antibiotic resistance, one of the many things coming to get us all. But there's good news, sort of. News antibiotics are coming out! How do they get tested? What does that kind of a trial look like and how does it happen? Host Bethany Brookeshire talks with Matt McCarthy, author of "Superbugs: The Race to Stop an Epidemic", about the ins and outs of testing a new antibiotic in the hospital.
Now Playing: Radiolab

Dispatch 6: Strange Times
Covid has disrupted the most basic routines of our days and nights. But in the middle of a conversation about how to fight the virus, we find a place impervious to the stalled plans and frenetic demands of the outside world. It's a very different kind of front line, where urgent work means moving slow, and time is marked out in tiny pre-planned steps. Then, on a walk through the woods, we consider how the tempo of our lives affects our minds and discover how the beats of biology shape our bodies. This episode was produced with help from Molly Webster and Tracie Hunte. Support Radiolab today at Radiolab.org/donate.