Record-setting 500 trillion-watt laser shot achieved


July 14, 2012

500 terawatt shot -  The preamplifiers of the National Ignition Facility (Photo: Damien Jemison/LLNL)

500 terawatt shot - The preamplifiers of the National Ignition Facility (Photo: Damien Jemison/LLNL)

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Researchers at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory's National Ignition Facility (NIF) have achieved a laser shot which boggles the mind: 192 beams delivered an excess of 500 trillion-watts (TW) of peak power and 1.85 megajoules (MJ) of ultraviolet laser light to a target of just two millimeters in diameter. To put those numbers into perspective, 500 TW is more than one thousand times the power that the entire United States uses at any instant in time. Pew-Pew indeed ...

The NIF is funded by the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA), a semi-autonomous agency within the U.S. Department of Energy which is responsible for enhancing national security through the application of nuclear science, and the news comes at a time when the U.S. military and various government agencies appear to be increasingly interested in the use of lasers as potential weapons.

However, though the potential national security benefits of such a powerful laser are clear, NIF also provides unique opportunities for wholly scientific pursuits. NIF is said to be the only such facility to offer the potential of duplicating phenomena which occurs in the heart of a modern nuclear device and this is cited by the lab as a key tool to be employed in order to keep underground nuclear testing firmly in the past.

The equipment at NIF allows scientists to study the states of matter which can occur in the centers of planets, stars and other celestial objects and further to this, the scientists based at NIF also work toward the goal of clean and sustainable fusion energy by aiming to ignite hydrogen fusion fuel in the lab and thus produce more energy than originally supplied to the target.

"For scientists across the nation and the world who, like ourselves, are actively pursuing fundamental science under extreme conditions and the goal of laboratory fusion ignition, this is a remarkable and exciting achievement," said Dr. Richard Petrasso, senior research scientist and division head of high energy density physics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Having exceeded 1 MJ operation for the first time back in March 2009, the NIF has since increased its operational energy output by roughly 1 kilojoule each day, and the lab is currently operating 24 hours a day at unprecedented performance levels, with the 1.85 megajoules of energy recently achieved equivalent to approximately 100 times what any other laser can regularly produce.

This latest record-breaking laser shot is the culmination of 15 years of work by researchers at NIF and their experience is to be put to use elsewhere, with the team influencing the design of other giant laser facilities being built or planned in the United Kingdom, France, Russia, Japan and China.

Source: LLNL Via: Popular Science

About the Author
Adam Williams Adam scours the globe from his home in North Wales in order to bring the best of innovative architecture and sustainable design to the pages of Gizmag. Most of his spare time is spent dabbling in music, tinkering with old Macintosh computers and trying to keep his even older VW bus on the road. All articles by Adam Williams

I'd like to order about 2 dozen of these, as well as the corresponding shark head-mount accessories. Anyone know what the cost would be?


The Emperor: [In the throne room, Luke is watching the Imperial fleet attack the Rebels from the huge throne room window] As you can see, my young apprentice, your friends have failed. Now witness the firepower of this fully ARMED and OPERATIONAL battle station!

Cawton Mentor

So what happened to the target? Hit or miss?

Daniel Humphries

What did they shoot it at and how much damage did it inflict? I'm quite sure there are more pyromaniacs than scientists here...

Mr. Doctor

Of course the best use for something like this will be used to shoot incoming asteroids...provided we have enough quarters.

John Foxx

WOW! In 1961 I started working for a small laser company in Ann Arbor, the first commercial laser company in the world. We were building a laser based on a 1/4" X 3" ruby rod and I think the maximum we could get out of it was 3 joules. We had to cool the ruby rod with liquid nitrogen and of course fired the capacitor bank into the helical flashlamp.

We knew then the laser would become an important device in years to come but we never dreamed of anything like this. I often wish I could have stayed in the laser business but that little company finally had to give it up.

Mr E

Who would have believed prior to the tragedies of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, that just by having densely pressed pieces of uranium-235 (~ 20 kg into a ball of about 1 liter) or plutonium-239 (~ 5 kg into a ball the size of an apple) it would be possible to start a chain reaction which would instantly incinerate two large cities with their unsuspecting population?

E = MC ^ 2, isn’t it? So why don’t we consider that by reckless poking into the unpredictability, the experimenters could create on Earth a much more powerful chain process of instantaneous release of all the energy from the substance of the planet?

All thinking people are urged to visit which presents scientific material "About a new theory of the origin of the universe and the dangers of extreme experiments with matter."


I mentioned the other day about the early days of lasers at Trion Instruments in Ann Arbor. A few years later I had the privilege and pleasure of work with Alan E. Hill who is supposed to be the world's leading expert on high energy lasers. I didn't see his name in the article but I wonder if his fingerprints are on this. He typically dealt with gas lasers like CO2 pulsed lasers which he invented while at the laser company in Ann Arbor.

I wish I was an artist and could paint the image in my mind of Alan standing on a stack of marble slabs tuning the micrometer-adjusted mirrors on a high power CO2 laser. The mirror was "hot" at 500,000 volts. The room was illuminated with the UV from the laser. A rotary spark gap was discharging a rather large capacitor (1uF at 15 KV) at about 50 pps. The capacitor was discharged into the primaries of 2 air-core transformers suspended above the 6" diameter laser tube. They generated 250,000 volts each and were in series across the laser.

It was really eerie with Alan's hair standing on end and the repetitive zapping of the laser in the fire brick which was glowing red hot with white sparks flying everywhere. Those were the days. But it certainly gives me a great appreciation of what these guys are doing.

Mr E

Mr E I came across this article while looking for some information on Trion my grandfather Charles Creps did some work with them in 1961 I believe I would like to know if you by chance knew him or Llyod Cross and might have any information or stories you could pass along it would be appreciated my e mail is

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