Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory



NIF & Photon Science is a principal directorate of Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL) in Livermore, California. The directorate operates the National Ignition Facility (NIF), the world’s largest and highest-energy laser.

NIF’s 192 laser beams routinely creating temperatures and pressures similar to those that exist only in the cores of stars and giant planets and inside nuclear weapons. The facility is funded by the U.S. Department of Energy’s National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) and is a key element of NNSA’s Stockpile Stewardship Program to maintain the reliability and safety of the U.S. nuclear deterrent without full-scale testing.

NIF is managed as a shared national resource. NIF users include scientists from the U.S. Department of Energy national laboratories, worldwide fusion energy and high energy density science research centers, academia, and other national and international sources. Hundreds of NIF & Photon Science Directorate scientists, engineers, and technicians, along with   national and international collaborators, are using NIF for these key research areas:

  • Helping ensure the nation’s security (see National Security) through stockpile stewardship.
  • Blazing the path to a clean, safe, carbon-free energy future (see Energy for the Future) through inertial fusion energy (IFE).
  • Making important advances toward achieving ignition in the laboratory for the first time. NIF’s goal is to focus the intense energy of 192 giant laser beams on a BB-sized target filled with hydrogen fuel, fusing the hydrogen atoms’ nuclei and releasing many times more energy than it took to initiate the fusion reaction.
  • Advancing a wide variety of scientific disciplines, including astrophysics, materials science, particle physics, and x-ray and neutron science (see Discovery Science).

Other programs within the directorate push the frontiers of laser science by developing advanced laser and optics technologies and applications for homeland security, national defense, stockpile stewardship science, and energy. The primary objectives are to create:

  • New technologies and materials for NIF experiments and future IFE power plants
  • Lasers for defense, energy, and high-energy-density science applications
  • High-energy photon sources for radiography and isotope-specific assay, imaging, and detection
  • Precision optical components for a variety of sponsors and missions, including spacecraft

NIF is a premier international center for experimental science. The extreme temperatures and pressures created inside the NIF target chamber allow scientists from around the world to conduct unprecedented experiments in high-energy density science and gain new insights into such mysterious astrophysical phenomena as supernovae, giant planets, and black holes.

Users of NIF include scientists from the U.S. Department of Energy national laboratories, worldwide fusion energy and high-energy density science research centers, academia, and other national and international facilities.