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Harnessing the energy of the stars: Translation of "Initial performance results of the OMEGA laser system" by Boehly et. al for www.discovermagazine.com

Harnessing the energy of the stars: Translation of "Initial performance results of the OMEGA laser system" by Boehly et. al for www.discovermagazine.com

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Published by Karyn N. Lewis
Scientific article translation assignment in association with 0502-460-70 Science Writing - Rochester Institute of Technology Winter 2008
Scientific article translation assignment in association with 0502-460-70 Science Writing - Rochester Institute of Technology Winter 2008

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Published by: Karyn N. Lewis on Feb 26, 2009
Copyright:Attribution Non-commercial


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Karyn N. Lewis0502-460-70 Science WritingWinter 20082Translation AssignmentHarnessing the energy of the stars:
Translation of “Initial performance results of the OMEGA laser system,” by Boehly et. al
 for www.discovermagazine.comScientists have been attempting to tap into the energy unleashed by the sun and stars
since Albert Einstein’s equation E = mc
derived nearly 100 years ago, which first raised thepossibility that fusing atoms together could release tremendous amounts of power. As more andmore is learned about temperatures, elements, and atoms, scientists are formulating ways to usenuclear fusion to create unlimited amounts of energy on Earth. They now believe they are on thebrink of harnessing the power that created the universe in the first place
the Big Bang
and the
timing couldn’t be better. At a time when fossil fuel supplies are dwindling and fears aboutglobal warming are continuously expanding, the University of Rochester’s Laboratory for Laser 
Energetics (LLE) marks another important step in the effort toward attaining sustainable nuclearfusion
the ultimate, inexhaustible source of clean energy.Until recently, the pressure and temperature equivalent to the center of a typical star
about 1 trillion atmospheres and upwards of 70 million degrees Fahrenheit
could only beproduced on Earth through nuclear explosions. With inertial confinement fusion, however, LLEhas been able to produce these kinds of temperatures and pressures in a laboratory. The OMEGAlaser delivers more than 30 kilojoules of ultraviolet light in just one billionth of a second. Thismakes it among the three most powerful lasers in the world. The entire system stands just 10meters tall and approximately 100 meters in length, focusing laser energy from 60 separatebeams onto a spherical target that measures less than 1 millimeter in diameter. Powerful? Indeed.
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Yet the OMEGA laser has become approximately 50 times more powerful still with the inclusionof the OMEGA Extended Performance (EP) System.Working in
conjunction with the LLE’s original 60
-beam OMEGA laser, the OMEGAEP opened the door to a new concept called fast-ignition
an advanced and very promisingfusion-ignition technique that dramatically increases the energy derived from fusionexperiments
with its first shot in February 2008. The OMEGA EP comprises a set of four ultra-high-intensity lasers that can unleash a laser power of one petawatt
a million billion watts
 — making it the world’s most energetic short
-pulse beam capable of supplying more power in abrief instant of time than 1,000 times the entire U.S. electrical grid. Even more impressive, the
consistency of the system’s performance over many days of operation has proven its overall
mechanical stability.In inertial confinement fusion, lasers beams are used to compress and heat a smallspherical target capsule containing deuterium and tritium isotopes of hydrogen to thermonucleartemperatures. To release energy at a level required for the generation of electricity the fuel mustbe heated to about 100 million degrees Celsius
 —more than six times that of the Sun’s core— 
andconfined long enough that more energy is released than required to sustain a reaction. The heatand pressure on the capsule causes it to ablate outward much like the exhaust of a combustionengine, creating a force on the inner portion of the capsule equivalent to the density of hundredsof grams per cubic centimeter. The force, in turn, drives the capsule to implode, compressing andheating the fuel inside and causing it to undergo fusion and release energy. The process is like arocket, only a spherical rocket in this case, and the material on the inside is pushed inward andcompressed, eventually collapsing on itself. When the nuclei of hydrogen isotopes
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and tritium
collide and combine, an enormous amount of energy is released, converting mass
into energy per Einstein’s famous E = mc
Under Einstein’s theory, the amount of energy locked up in one gram of matter is enough
to power 28,500 100-watt light bulbs for an entire year. Scientists expect that a nuclear powerplant will eventually be able to generate 1,000 megawatts
a thousand million watts
of electricity, enough to service one million homes. To put that into perspective, just one megawattalone has enough power to handle 1,000 homes or turn on 10,000 100-watt light bulbs.Furthermore, fusion is considered one of the only energy sources capable of satisfying thegrowing need for power for the next century without the harmful environmental impacts of fossilfuels. Luckily, the fuel for fusion
deuterium and tritium
occurs naturally in seawater and isessentially inexhaustible. In a fusion power plant, one gallon of seawater would provide theequivalent energy of 300 gallons of gasoline; fuel from just 50 cups would provide theequivalent energy of two tons of coal. Just one cubic kilometer of seawater could generate the
same energy as the combustion of the entire world’s oil reserve
! Additionally, a fusion-poweredplant would produce no climate-changing gases and considerably less environmentally harmfulradioactive byproducts than nuclear power plants currently do
without danger of a runawayreaction or core meltdown.First established in 1970 to investigate the interaction of intense radiation with matter, theLLE program is jointly supported by the U.S. Department of Energy Office of InertialConfinement Fusion and the New York State Energy and Research and Development Authorityto provide qualified researchers with a unique environment for experiments in inertial fusion andhigh-energy physics. Research scientists from throughout the world, U.S. national laboratories,and universities travel to Rochester to use the OMEGA laser facilities. Beyond clean energy

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