April 10, 2024
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Ignition Takes Center Stage at NIF and JLF User Groups Meeting

By Jon Kawamoto

Ignition was the dominant theme at this year’s LLNL National Ignition Facility and Jupiter Laser Facility (NIF and JLF) User Groups Meeting.

The word—and the subject—came up repeatedly in presentations, including reviews of NIF’s repeated achievement of fusion ignition and plans for future megajoule (MJ) yields, JLF experiments, Discovery Science projects, and discussions about the future of inertial fusion energy (IFE). And, as if to emphasize the point, LLNL “Ignition” banners were featured prominently in the background.

The event, held from Jan. 30 to Feb. 1, attracted more than 175 participants to learn about research projects and activities of LLNL’s NIF & Photon Science (NIF&PS) Directorate and the Physical and Life Sciences Directorate’s JLF.

There were 39 distinct institutions represented among the registered attendees, including nearly two dozen universities, several companies, National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) personnel, and national laboratories. An estimated 50 university students attended, and 45 posters were presented.

LLNL HBCU Week home page
Ignition figured prominently in the presentations and discussions at the NIF and JLF User Groups Meeting in Livermore.

“Since the last time we saw each other, it has been a momentous year at the National Ignition Facility, and for our high energy density (HED) community at large,” said Vincent Tang, deputy director of the NIF&PS Directorate, in his opening remarks at the Garré Vineyard & Winery event center in Livermore.

“Just over a year ago, NIF made fusion ignition happen, crossing that long theorized threshold to achieve a net energy gain,” Tang continued.

Since the initial fusion ignition milestone on Dec. 5, 2022, the Lab has repeated ignition four more times, most recently on Feb. 12, after the User Groups Meeting.

Tang credited the fundamental research and Discovery Science work discussed at the NIF and JLF User Groups Meeting as having “played key roles in helping to make ignition happen—from driving capability development like new diagnostics and platforms to helping us as a community sustain a world-leading team.’

This year’s meeting was particularly exciting for the JLF since it has completed a multiyear refurbishment project and has a new facility director in Félicie Albert. JLF users provided several technical presentations describing new experiments.

“The NIF and JLF User Groups Meeting was great for the JLF user community,” Albert said, “because after four years of refurbishment, the facility is starting to welcome users back for experiments.”

Photo of panel members for discussion on "Fostering Innovation Through IFE"
A new feature at this year’s NIF and JLF User Groups Meeting was a panel discussion on “Fostering Innovation Through IFE,” moderated by Petros Tzeferacos of the University of Rochester, at right. Shown, from left, are: Justin Galbraith, Alan Fry, John Edwards, and Dan Casey. Galbraith, Edwards, and Casey are with LLNL. Fry is with the SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory.

Samantha Calkins, NNSA federal program manager, presented a perspective on her organization and reviewed its priorities. NNSA is responsible for the safety and reliability of the nation’s nuclear stockpile and maintains the stockpile in the absence of underground tests while also strengthening key science, technology, and engineering capabilities.

“When we have this sort of cross-section of appropriately scaled drivers, advanced diagnostics, and simulations, we can really achieve exciting results such as ignition on the NIF,” she said. “But this wasn’t achieved by one person alone or just overnight. As you all know, this took decades of work, collaborations across the scientific community, creativity, innovation, as well as an unyielding endurance to push scientific progress forward.

“Reaching ignition has now allowed us to think, ‘What’s beyond the ignition?’” Calkins said. “Can we achieve a high-yield capability in the laboratory or even just higher yields on the NIF? And that would unlock further space within the HED regime to answer outstanding questions.”

Kramer Akli, program manager for DOE’s Office of Science, Fusion Energy Sciences, detailed the federal government’s funding of $75 million to advance IFE through public-private partnerships, including a four-year, $16-million multi-institutional project led by LLNL. The LLNL effort will be carried out by the newly established IFE Science and Technology Accelerated Research for Fusion Innovation and Reactor Engineering (STARFIRE) hub.

The IFE-STARFIRE hub will accelerate demonstration of high-gain target designs, target manufacturing and engagement, and diode-pumped solid state laser technologies. The project will also begin developing the future workforce for IFE through partnerships with universities and new curriculum development.

Akli also reviewed plans to establish a pilot fusion energy plant in the 2030s or 2040s. “IFE is part of the roadmap, which is very exciting,” he said. “We really look forward to working with you, with the community, and with other stakeholders.”

Abbas Nikroo, NIF deputy director for Physics/Facility Integration, gave an update about NIF, describing it as, “an amazing accomplishment year at NIF” for three reasons: NIF’s ignition achievements, which open up new regimes of weapons physics and set the stage for new fusion energy possibilities; NIF provides data supporting the Stockpile Modernization Program design options and improves the understanding of weapons science; and the facility is progressing in making new hires in the workforce for long-term sustainability.

Daniel Mayes explaining his poster
Daniel Mayes, center, a postdoctoral researcher from the University of Texas at Austin, explains his poster on “Oxygen Opacity Experiments for Stellar Interiors at NIF” to Lauren Hobbs of the United Kingdom’s Atomic Weapons Establishment, left, and LLNL’s Elvin Monzon, right

The 10-year plan for NIF, Nikroo said, includes pushing the facility’s performance with its current facility up to 10 MJ output in the near term, and developing an upgrade proposal with NNSA to maximize NIF’s full laser energy potential to push yields to 30 MJ or higher, enabling the study of new physics regimes (see “Enhanced Yield Capability Proposal Aims to Boost NIF Yield”).

“It is an exciting time for NIF and its users and pushing the performance opens many new opportunities,” he said.

Nikroo said the final phase of the NIF Master Oscillator modernization project to improve laser accuracy and repeatability has been completed. He also noted optic and laser improvements now allow NIF to deliver up to 2.2 MJ of laser energy to the target.

In addition, the NIF Sustainment Plan is underway to ensure the facility can continue to meet program needs for the next two decades. Additional funding in 2023 enabled the start of urgent needs to refurbish amplifier and final optics.

Nikroo said the 2023 selection of 11 Discovery Science projects spans astrophysics, planetary science, nuclear science, and high-energy particle generation.

The Discovery Science projects are:

  • “Ionization in Dense Plasmas,” Roger Falcone, University of California, Berkeley.
  • “Turbulent Formation of Stars,” Seth Davidovits, LLNL;
  • “S-Process Nuclei in a Plasma Environment,” Brian Appelbe, Imperial College.
  • “Iron Photoionized Plasmas Relevant to Accretion Disks,” Roberto Mancini, University of Nevada, Reno.
  • “Ultra-Bright MeV Photon Sources,” Fabrizio Consoli, ENEA – Centro Ricerche Frascati.
  • “Ultra-High Power Beam Generation,” Patrick Poole, LLNL.
  • “Enhanced Proton Isochoric Heating Platform,” Raspberry Simpson, LLNL.
  • “Advancing Atomic Physics at Gbar Pressure,” Tilo Döppner, LLNL.
  • “Particle Acceleration in Magnetized Quasi-Perpendicular Collisionless  Shocks,” Frederico Fiuza, University of Lisbon.
  • “Pressure-Induced Phase Transformations of SiO2,” Michele Marshall, Laboratory for Laser Energetics.
  • “High-Brilliance Gamma-Ray Sources,” Nuno Lemos, LLNL.

Other presentations included:

  • Eva Zurek, University at Buffalo SUNY, “Extreme Chemistry and New States of Matter at Extreme Pressures.”
  • Danae Polsin, Laboratory for Laser Energetics, “Transforming Simple Metals to Topological Insulators: Sodium at NIF.”
  • Amy Jenei, LLNL, “Equations of state for white dwarf stars.”
  • Nuno Loureiro, MIT, “Modern Perspectives and Challenges in Plasma Turbulence and Magnetic Reconnection.”
  • Will Fox, Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory, “Experiments on Magnetic Reconnection at the NIF.”
  • Petros Tzeferacos, Laboratory for Laser Energetics, “Transport processes in turbulent and magnetized plasmas.”
  • David Collins, Florida State University, “Star Formation at NIF.”

In addition, the User Groups Meeting heard several updates on NIF from: Dayne Fratanduono, on developing an Enhanced Yield Capability; Annie Kritcher, on multi-MJ yields at NIF; Brian Spears, on the role of high-performance computing (HPC) and artificial intelligence (AI) in calculating ignition and accelerating inertial fusion science; and Dave Schlossberg, on high-yield diagnostic plans and radiation hardening.

New this year was a roundtable panel presentation on “Fostering Innovation Through IFE.” It was moderated by Tzeferacos, and the panelists were LLNL’s John Edwards, Justin Galbraith, and Dan Casey, and Alan Fry from the SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory.

Group photo of poster competition winners with their awards.
Poster competition winners with their awards. Shown, from left, Kevin Fournier, NIF User Office Director; Vicente Valenzuela-Villaseca, a postdoctoral researcher from Princeton University; Skylar Dannhoff, a graduate student at MIT; Sonya Dick, a graduate student at the University of Michigan; Maria Gatu-Johnson, MIT professor; and Félicie Albert, JLF Director.

The poster winners were:

  • First-place postdoctoral scholar: Vicente Valenzuela-Villaseca, Princeton University, “X-ray Imaging and Electron Temperature Evolution in Magnetic Reconnection Experiments at the NIF.”
  • First-place graduate scholar: Sonya Dick, University of Michigan, “Investigation of MgO Viscosity via Richtmyer-Meshkov Growth.”
  • Second-place graduate scholar: Skylar Dannhoff, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), “Investigations of Plasma Flow, Interface Dynamics, and Self-Generated Fields in Ta2O5- and SiO2-Lined Hohlraums at OMEGA.”

“The posters are a great venue for the students and postdocs to engage in a detailed give-and-take with Lab researchers and their academic colleagues, as well as for networking,” said NIF User Office Director Kevin Fournier. The poster contest was sponsored by General Atomics, Luxel Corporation, and Sydor Technologies.

The NIF User Office organized and hosted the event, including managing the tours of NIF and JLF, student travel, and the logistics for the offsite venue.

“The NIF User Office team, particularly the administrative team of Meaghan McDonald, Rachel Ghilarducci, and Aj Salaices, working closely with the NIF User Group Executive Committee, did a great job planning the event,” Fournier said, “arranging all the logistical details, facilitating tours of both the NIF and the Jupiter Laser Facility, getting visitors for the tours badged and on site, and generally handling all the behind-the-scenes tasks necessary to pull off such a stimulating and hospitable meeting.”

The Lab meeting organizers, support staff, and volunteers also included: MariAnn Albrecht, Stephanie Allmon, David Alyea, Deborah Bradford, Billy Brasher, Ty Brownfield, Cortlan Casey, Frank Chao, Amy Chen, Jesse Davis, Matthew Della Nina, Sommer Dominguez, Tony Donaville, Amanda Eaton, Gabrielle Gutierrez, Branden Hacker, Mary Harrington, Donald Harrison, Salma Helwa, Gabriela Herrera, Dionne Hidalgo, Dave Hopkins, Michael Jayne, Elaine Johnson, Stephanie Lahman, Christopher Lamee, Jason Laurea, Robin Martin, Fred Martinez, Jessi Montoya, Cheryll Nunez, Connie Oakley, Mary Orrett, Courtney Palmer, Lee Perry, Jenella Presley, Anne Provost, Chalena Ramirez, Andrea Seiwald, Dawnyel Springer, and Julia Zargham.

More Information:

“NIF and JLF User Groups Look Beyond Ignition to Bright Possibilities in Science,” NIF & Photon Science News, May 4, 2023

“LLNL’s NIF Delivers Record Laser Energy,” NIF & Photon Science News, November 16, 2023

“NIF and JLF User Groups Cite HED Science Successes Amid Pandemic,” NIF & Photon Science News, March 15, 2022

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