This is where the lead will go for the the awesomest story about lasers EVER! It will be followed by breathtakingly good reporting about the National Ignition Facility doing cutting edge work (cutting edge, get it?)
The National Ignition Facility (NIF) uses the world's largest laser to compress and heat BB-sized capsules of fusion fuel to thermonuclear ignition. Built by the U.S. Department of Energy at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, the facility's experiments produce temperatures and densities like those in the Sun or in a nuclear weapon.
By replicating the phenomena of a miniature star on Earth, the NIF will help scientists bring the study of astrophysical phenomena, materials science and nuclear physics into a controlled laboratory setting, and understand the complex physics of nuclear weapons without nuclear tests, as a unique element of the National Nuclear Security Administration's Stockpile Stewardship Program. The NIF will also play an important role in the development of commercial fusion energy.
The interior of the NIF target chamber. The target positioner is on the right.
The 192 laser beams of NIF generate a pulse energy of 1.8 million joules of ultraviolet light, and a pulse length of three to twenty billionths of a second. 16-inch by 16-inch beams of infrared laser light (1-micron wavelength) convert to ultraviolet beams (0.35-micron wavelength) at the target chamber.
The laser system is made up of 7500 large optics and over 30,000 small optical components. This includes more than 40 times the total precision optical surface in the Keck Observatory telescope. The system also uses NIF laser glass to create laser light out of normal light, and KDP (KH2PO4) crystals to convert that laser light to the correct frequency. The development of the optics and KDP crystals was documented in several SPIE Proceedings papers throughout the development of the facility.
The pulse amplification of the NIF's laser system totals three quadrillion (3 million billion), and is done in several stages. In the master oscillator room, the initial 1 billionth of a joule pulse is amplified 10,000 times, then split into 48 separate laser pulses. In the preamplifier module, each of the 48 pulses is further amplified 20 billion times, then split four ways to create 192 pulses. In the main laser system, each propagated pulse is amplified another 15,000 times.
National Ignition Facility homepage