Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory



The National Ignition Facility is the largest and most energetic laser facility ever built. NIF is the size of a sports stadium—three football fields could fit inside. NIF is also the most precise and reproducible laser as well as the world’s largest optical instrument. The giant laser has nearly 40,000 optics that precisely guide, reflect, amplify, and focus 192 laser beams onto a fusion target about the size of a pencil eraser. NIF became operational in March 2009.

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Built for Extremes

By focusing NIF’s laser beams onto a variety of targets, scientists create extreme states of matter, including temperatures of more than 100 million degrees Celsius (180 million degrees Fahrenheit) and pressures that exceed 100 billion times Earth’s atmosphere. NIF users and collaborators include researchers from Department of Energy national laboratories, universities, and other U.S. and foreign research centers.

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Pursuing Fusion Ignition

NIF is making important advances toward achieving fusion ignition in the laboratory for the first time (see How to Make a Star). 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 more energy than the energy lost during the fusion reaction.

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Science on a Mission

NIF supports fundamental advances in support of national security, Discovery Science, and energy security missions. NIF’s goals are to help ensure the reliability of the nation’s nuclear weapons without underground testing; lay the groundwork for using fusion as a clean, safe energy source; and provide scientists from across the nation and around the world with the opportunity to explore new frontiers in astrophysics, materials science, nuclear science, and many other scientific disciplines.

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Blueprint for Clean Energy

Nuclear fusion offers the potential for virtually unlimited safe and environmentally benign energy. Experiments at NIF will provide the scientific basis for a revolution in energy production—abundant and sustainable clean energy through the development of inertial fusion energy.

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