The National Ignition Facility (NIF) at Lawrence Livermore Labs in Northern California is the largest engineered project in the US. NIF houses the world's largest and highest-energy laser. NIF's 192 intense laser beams can deliver nearly two million joules of ultraviolet laser energy in billionth-of-a-second pulses to the target chamber center. When all that energy, equivalent to 500 trillion watts of power, slams into millimeter-sized targets, it can generate unprecedented temperatures and pressures in the target materials—temperatures of more than 100 million degrees and pressures more than 100 billion times Earth's atmosphere.
How the fusion part works:
1. 192 laser beams are focused on a gold-lined ‘hohlraum' capsule, just a few millimeters long, containing a pellet of hydrogen isotopes.
2. As 500 terawatts of laser power hits the capsule, it generates X-rays that blast into the pellet, causing the atoms of deuterium and tritium inside to fuse.
3. The fusion converts a tiny amount of their mass into a burst of energy.
A 2 mm diameter fuel capsule for a National Ignition Facility target.
*All photos courtesy Lawrence Livermore