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Simulations uncover obstacle to harnessing laser-driven fusion

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Posted March 27, 2013
These images from their simulations highlight the trajectories of randomly-selected electrons for a thin cone (left) and thick cone (right), each attached to a copper wire. Background colors show the strength of the electric fields pointing away from the cone and wire. For thin cones, the electric fields act to guide energetic electrons forward into the wire while for thick cones -- a more realistic case -- these fields are too distant to be effective. Credit: Ohio State

These images from their simulations highlight the trajectories of randomly-selected electrons for a thin cone (left) and thick cone (right), each attached to a copper wire. Background colors show the strength of the electric fields pointing away from the cone and wire. For thin cones, the electric fields act to guide energetic electrons forward into the wire while for thick cones — a more realistic case — these fields are too distant to be effective. Credit: Ohio State

A once-promising approach for using next-generation, ultra-intense lasers to help deliver commercially viable fusion energy has been brought into serious question by new experimental results and first-of-a-kind simulations of laser-plasma interaction.

Researchers at The Ohio State University are evaluating a two-stage process in which a pellet of fusion fuel is first crushed by lasers on all sides, shrinking the pellet to dozens of times its original size, followed by an ultra-intense burst of laser light to ignite a chain reaction. This two-stage approach is called Fast Ignition, and there are a few variants on the theme. In a recent paper, the Ohio State research group considered the long-discussed possibility of using a hollow cone to maintain a channel for the ultra-intense “ignitor pulse” to focus laser energy on the compressed pellet core. Drawing on both experimental results from studies at the Titan Laser at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California, and massively-parallel computer simulations of the laser-target interaction performed at the Ohio Supercomputer Center (OSC) in Columbus, Ohio, the research team found compelling evidence that the cone-guided approach to Fast Ignition has a serious flaw.

Read more at: Phys.org

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