Astrophysicist to field questions about NIF shots

jena-reddit (Download Image) Astrophysicist Jena Meinecke will field questions online about her coming experiements on the National Ignition Facility.

University of Oxford graduate student Jena Meinecke has literally prepared for years and traveled around the world for the chance to conduct experiments on the National Ignition Facility (NIF). Meinecke is one of about 600 members of the NIF user community — researchers who are interested in experiments on the world's most energetic laser. Her quest: probe the origins of magnetic fields in the universe.

"There's only one laser on Earth that can tell us the origins of magnetic fields in our universe, and that's the NIF laser," Meinecke said. "We have three days of shots on NIF to gather our data, and next week we will take our first shot."

Meinecke has used other high-energy lasers on her path to NIF to probe physics relevant to shocks and plasma interactions from colliding galaxy clusters and supernova explosions. Using these scaled experiments, she has generated seed magnetic fields — the "grandparents" of the fields scientists study today throughout the universe. But to be able to understand the origins of magnetic fields — how they first formed in the early universe  and how they reached the levels that we observe today she will need to measure one of the most coveted phenomena in laboratory astrophysics: the turbulent dynamo process.

Enter NIF. "It's a question that's consumed me for years," Meinecke said. "And NIF is the only laser on Earth capable of creating plasmas with magnetic energy on par with the kinetic energy."

Q&A with Jena

Meinecke will field questions from the public on the popular website Reddit on Friday, Feb. 12. Anyone with a free Reddit user account will be able to post questions for Meinecke, which she will answer from 10 a.m. to noon PST.