Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory

April 12, 2023

The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine has released a report that identifies key challenges and questions facing the field of high energy density (HED) science and facilities like NIF during the upcoming decade.

The report, Fundamental Research in High Energy Density Science, proposes ways to address those challenges and is the result of a year-and-a-half consensus study by a committee of 13 experts with a breadth of experience in HED science and related fields.

NAS HEDS report

The committee was chaired by Raymond Jeanloz of UC Berkeley and Giulia Galli of the University of Chicago, and included contributions by NIF staff scientist Félicie Albert, deputy director of LLNL’s High Energy Density Science Center.

“Over the past decade, HED science has had many societal and scientific impacts,” Albert said. “It has critical applications in areas ranging from inertial confinement fusion (ICF) to the science of materials that are important for sustaining the nation's nuclear deterrent, as well as understanding planets and how they formed and evolved.”

HED science is a wide-ranging and rapidly evolving research frontier seeking to understand and control material at extreme conditions.

In its comprehensive study, the committee described advancements in HED physics in the United States over the last decade and identified major scientific gaps and potential new directions in areas of modeling, simulation, instrumentation, and target fabrication that offer the most promising investment opportunities. It also identified challenges the field may face over the next decade and offered guidance for needed investments, interagency collaboration tools, and infrastructure.

Additionally, the committee evaluated the role of HED physics in developing an expert workforce for National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) facilities and assessed required resources, scientific focus, access to experimental facilities, and funding levels to meet nuclear security workforce needs in the coming decade. Finally, it assessed the advances made by other countries in HED science and discussed the relative standing of the United States.

The report made two leading recommendations to strengthen global leadership in HED science through essential investments in capabilities and the workforce. The recommendations have important implications for LLNL programs, facilities, and workforce, said Vincent Tang, principal deputy director for the NIF & Photon Science (NIF&PS) Directorate.

“The recommendations from the National Academies report are important and well-aligned with LLNL plans, including NIF sustainment and planned upgrades to enhance fusion yield outputs that will build on recent ICF and HED successes in partnership with the community.” Tang said. “Foundationally, we can only accomplish our national security mission through sustained investment in our workforce and a diverse and inclusive environment that strives toward science and technology excellence.”

In its first recommendation, the committee called on the NNSA to exploit and enhance HED science capabilities and facilities. The committee stressed the need to establish plans over the next five years to extend, upgrade, or replace NNSA’s flagship HED facilities such as NIF, the Z Pulsed Power Facility at Sandia National Laboratories, and the Omega Laser Facility at the University of Rochester’s Laboratory for Laser Energetics.

The recommendation included increasing the promotion of forefront technology development, including in high-intensity lasers; enhancing academic capabilities and mid-scale facilities; and broadening remote access to NNSA’s major experimental and computing facilities.

Secondly, the committee recommended robust investments in the HED science workforce by enhancing career pathways, broadening current diversity, equity, and inclusion programs, and improving workplace climate.

"The bottom line is that we need to enhance human capacity for HED science research,” Albert said. “Otherwise, we're at risk of not fulfilling the full potential of this scientific field. Now more than ever, we need a strong pipeline of talented scientists, engineers, and technicians in this field. A healthy workforce is really essential.”

NNSA already has some great academic programs, Albert added. The committee urged continued development of those programs with internships, postdoc opportunities, and visits to create more chances for students and professors to interact with national labs and be embedded in their research.

“We also emphasized how important it is that we collaborate with international partners and find ways to attract and retain international scholars, because they really are a huge part of a global workforce,” Albert said.

“I had the pleasure of being brought in as an international postdoc into a national security lab,” she added. “I can attest that the fundamental science, unique resources, and capabilities at the national labs have been really key to attracting people like myself into the U.S. HED science community. We should continue efforts in that direction to maintain collaboration with international scientists.”

The report also identified four HED science grand challenges for the next decade:

  • How can nuclear fusion be controlled and harnessed for society’s energy, security, and technology needs?
  • What are the quantum states of matter in the HED regime leading to new classes of materials for energy transport, storage, and quantum information science?
  • How can we understand matter and processes, from atomic to cosmic, at extreme HED conditions over a vast range of distances and times?
  • Can extreme astrophysical phenomena evident from observations or predicted by theory be reproduced in the laboratory?

The next decade of HED science, the report notes, will be instrumental to growing our understanding and in the development of new technologies and processes.

The final report will be used by policy makers, industry, non-governmental organizations, the public, and the scientific community in advancing the field of HED science over the next decade.

More Information:

The National Academies of Science, Engineering, and Medicine

—Paul Rhien

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