NIF and JLF user groups look beyond ignition to bright possibilities in science

Kwyntero Kelso (Download Image)

Kwyntero Kelso, a graduate student at the University of Michigan, right, discusses his poster with Igor Golovkin from Prism Computational Sciences, Inc. Photos by Mark Meager/LLNL>

Attendees at this year’s National Ignition Facility (NIF) and Jupiter Laser Facility (JLF) User Groups Meeting celebrated Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory's (LLNL) recent fusion ignition breakthrough at the National Ignition Facility, but also kept their focus on looking ahead to a bright future of high energy density (HED) science research.

The forward-thinking discussions included new Stockpile Stewardship projects, the impetus for inertial fusion energy (IFE) and user experiments through NIF and the JLF, with the emphasis on HED science.

In opening remarks, LLNL Director Kim Budil noted the Dec. 5. 2022, fusion ignition breakthrough and the important contributions of the NIF and JLF User Groups has created a key “moment in time” when the world is focused on the possibilities of science.

“It’s very rare for a large scientific institution to get a lot of attention for a long time for something good,” Budil said. “And it’s a moment for the community to come together around that because we have a chance to really build on that success, advance capabilities to these facilities and help them understand how laser facilities and R&D facilities have transformed how we think of material science, how we think about astrophysics, how we think about plasma science and how we think about energy futures.”

The annual meeting resumed as an in-person gathering for the first time in three years. In all, 198 people registered for Feb. 21-23 meeting, including at least 50 students. Attendees came from across the United States, United Kingdom, Israel, Germany, Japan and Canada.

NIF User Office Director Kevin Fournier, NIF User Group Chair Petros Tzeferacos of the University of Rochester’s Laboratory for Laser Energetics, and JLF User Group Chair Christine Mariscal of General Atomics (GA) all said it was wonderful to be back in person again after the pandemic forced the meeting into a virtual format.

Mariscal shared the welcome news that JLF’s four-year refurbishment project is now complete and that JLF is ready for business.

“We’re really excited to welcome research back at JLF with our facility upgrades,” she said.

Jhonnatan Gama Vazquez
Jhonnatan Gama Vazquez of Stanford University and the SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory, explains his poster, “Simulation study of energy partition and particle injection in magnetized collisionless shocks,” to LLNL physicist Annie Kritcher at the NIF and JLF User Groups Meeting. Vazquez’s entry won first place in the graduate scholar category.

“The news of ignition will resonate throughout this meeting,” Tzeferacos said. Indeed, various presenters congratulated LLNL and NIF for the achievement.

Vincent Tang, principal deputy director for the NIF and Photon Science (NIF&PS) Directorate, praised the contributions by NIF and JLF users and their role in the ignition milestone. He echoed Budil and other speakers by saying, “This is a great time to be a HED scientist.

“The discovery and fundamental science work that we in this community do on NIF and JLF has helped enable that [fusion ignition] and other Stockpile Stewardship Program breakthroughs,” he said. “[The] Discovery Science program does that by helping to answer the most fundamental questions about the universe — ones that we’ve asked since humans looked up at the stars. It pushes NIF to develop new experimental concepts and capabilities that are leveraged by other programs and this also ensures that our Laboratory and the academic, HED and plasma communities have ample opportunity for engagement and collaboration, so that we can all stay together at the forefront.

“Livermore’s core mission is national security, but we can really only accomplish that mission by bringing the best science to it and helping to push forward that frontier,” he said.

Fusion pilot plant by 2040s

Paul Davis, deputy director of the Office of Experimental Sciences in the Department of Energy (DOE)’s National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA), said the DOE’s goals for 2023 included advancing world-class science, technology and engineering by deploying NNSA’s first exascale computer and quantifying the repeatability of laser-driven fusion ignition.

Davis also noted a 10-year ICF facility and infrastructure plan that was delivered to Congress and a National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine HED science report that was released as the meeting was underway (see “National academies report on HED science includes LLNL contributions”).

Kramer Akli, program manager of the DOE Office of Science, said the long-range goal is to establish a pilot fusion energy plant by the 2040s. He also noted the proposal of a new, fusion-centered program with private industry. In the cost-sharing program, the DOE would leverage private-sector creativity to develop new U.S.-based capabilities that would enable fusion commercialization. 

NIF JLF user group
Nearly 200 attendees of the NIF and JLF User Groups Meeting gathered for the first time in three years at the Bella Rosa Conference Center at the Garré Vineyard & Winery in Livermore.

NIF’s achievements, priorities

NIF Director Gordon Brunton explained that the ignition milestone opens the future to new regimes of weapons physics and sets the stage for fusion energy possibilities.

A report from Brunton and NIF Operations and Facility Manager Bruno Van Wonterghem also highlighted:

  • The continued delivery of high-volume data supporting Stockpile Modernization Program design options.
  • Improving understanding of weapon science, such as plutonium properties at high pressures, radiation transport and complex hydrodynamics.
  • An expansion of nuclear survivability test capabilities.

All of this, Brunton said, has set the stage to attract new talent to NIF’s workforce to take on upcoming challenges.

Brunton also listed NIF’s key priorities, which he said aim to deliver for NNSA and develop capabilities for upcoming HED needs. They plan to:

  • Deliver game-changing data by doing the most important experiments for the SSP and expand regimes.
  • Develop and use new platforms to leverage megajoule-yield implosions for Stockpile Stewardship.
  • Develop targets with new ablators and reduced engineering features.
  • Improve the reproducibility and accuracy of the NIF laser pulse.
  • Enable higher laser energy to support higher fusion yield.
  • Address deferred maintenance in the facility for long-term sustainability of NIF.

“Our December result will change things a lot in achieving target gains greater than 1,” he said. “It’s super exciting and has accelerated our plans by a few years. We’re revising our goals for the next decade.”

Those goals include: pushing NIF’s performance up to 10 megajoules (MJ) in the near term for SSP applications; increasing NIF laser power and energy and pushing performance to 30 MJ or higher in the longer term; and laying the groundwork for a next-generation ICF facility for high yield.

Brunton noted that achieving ignition was in part enabled by an 8% increase in laser energy, providing more margin in target physics designs. He also said that NIF is continuing to manage the impacts of COVID-19.

Brunton said that megajoule-level nuclear yields present opportunities and challenges for NIF’s users and require a careful balance until NIF addresses the impacts of aging equipment. The aging of many of the facility’s systems has resulted in degradations and a backlog of system maintenance and equipment obsolescence. Equipment failure impacts are now contributing to about 50 lost shot opportunities per year.

NIF sustainment plans, due to be completed over the next five years, will ensure the facility can continue to meet program needs for the next two decades.

Brunton also described the Discovery Science projects selected in 2022 that span astrophysics, planetary science, nuclear science and hydrodynamics:

  • Michael Paul, Hebrew University in Jerusalem: “Two-neutron Capture in a DT Layered Shot.”
  • Derek Schaeffer, University of California, Los Angeles: “Ion Acceleration in Magnetized Collisionless Shocks.”
  • Alex Zylstra, LLNL: “Nuclear Cross Sections in Stellar Evolution.”
  • Roberto Mancini, University of Nevada, Reno: “Iron Photoionized Plasmas Relevant to Accretion Disks.”
  • Mathieu Bailly-Grandvaux, University of California, San Diego: “MHD in Magnetized Plasmas.”
  • Frederica Coppari, LLNL: “Superionic Water Ices.”
  • Luke Fletcher, SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory: “(r,T,Z) Measurements of Colliding Shocks in HDC.”
  • Thomas Duffy, Princeton University: “Silicate Structures at Super-Earth Interior Conditions.”
  • Gianluca Gregori, Oxford University: “Transport Processes in Turbulent Magnetized Plasmas.”
  • Choong-Shik Yoo, Washington State University: “Chemistry under Extreme Conditions: Phase Transitions in NaCI.”
  • Riccardo Bonazza, University of Wisconsin, Madison: “Scaling of Shock-driven Flows Over Orders of Magnitude.”

Fournier outlined the impact of increased yields on scheduling, saying the higher yields require a longer stay-out time after the shot. He said High-Fidelity Pulse Shaping, which will enable up to a 10-fold improvement in shaping precision, is in the final phase of a multiyear modernization project that will significantly improve power balance and accuracy.

Fournier also noted the web-based Pulse Shape Tool (PST), which replaces the Pulse Shape Editor. The PST will ease the responsible individuals’ work to create, search, save and validate NIF laser pulses.

JLF’s new facility plans

Félicie Albert, deputy director of JLF and LLNL’s HED Science Center, said a long-term JLF strategic plan includes a new facility within the Livermore Valley Open Campus. The facility would be integrated within LLNL’s High Energy Density (HED) Science Center’s mission, include office space and have three goals:

  • Providing an open, peer-reviewed access user facility allowing for Discovery Science projects.
  • Develop, leverage, support and use new technology for laser and optical science, diagnostics, and targets with NIF&PS and LLNL programs.
  • Foster a new culture of partnership and innovation.

In the near term, she said, JLF is looking forward to welcoming users back this spring. To enable high-impact experiments, the facility will capitalize on the recently completed refurbishment project and conduct a series of advances through partnerships at LLNL, including with NIF&PS, Weapons and Complex Integration, Physical & Life Sciences and Engineering. JLF will continue to be a member of LaserNetUS, engage with the broader scientific community, and attract HED scientists to LLNL.

The NIF and JLF members heard presentations from:

  • Raspberry Simpson, LLNL, on “Time-dependent Particle Acceleration through Temporally shaped Short-pulses on NIF’s ARC.”
  • Chandra Breanne Curry, SLAC, on “LaserNetUS: Harnessing the Power of Collaboration for Cutting-Edge Research and Workforce Development.”
  • Jun Ren, Delaware State University, on “Amplification for Ultrashort Pulse through Stimulated Raman Backscattering.”
  • Carolyn Kuranz, University of Michigan, on “Center for Laser Experimental Astrophysical Research (CLEAR).”
  • Chikang Li, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, on “MIT Center of Excellence for Advanced Diagnostics & Platforms for ICF & HED Physics at Omega, NIF and Z.”
  • Luke Ceurvorst, LLE, on “Probing the Nonlinear Rayleigh-Taylor Instability’s Dependence on Ablation Velocity and Material Composition.”

Tammy Ma, the lead for the Lab’s Inertial Fusion Energy Institutional Initiative, gave a presentation on “DOE Basic Research Needs in Inertial Fusion Energy.”

Tzeferacos and NIF User Group Vice Chair Professor Louise Willingale of the University of Michigan presented these awards in the best poster contest, sponsored by General Atomics:

  • First place postdoctoral scholar: Graeme Sutcliffe, MIT, for “Experiments and simulations investigating filamentary instabilities in ns-duration-laser-driven expanding plasmas.”
  • First place graduate scholar: Jhonnatan Gama Vazquez, SLAC, for “Simulation study of energy partition and particle injection in magnetized collisionless shocks.”
  • Second place graduate scholar: Brady Unzicker, The Ohio State University, for “Ion Rings Formation After Laser-driven Ion Acceleration in Thin Film Targets.”

The meeting concluded with tours of the NIF and JLF and a breakout session led by the Lab’s Raspberry Simpson and Jackson Williams on “Community Discussion on Facility Capability Development of an ARC-Driven TNSA Proton Radiography Source.”

The NIF User Office organized and hosted the event, including managing student travel and the logistics for the offsite venue, the Bella Rosa Conference Center at the Garré Vineyard & Winery.

“The User Office administrative staff, with help from across the NIF enterprise, did a great job preparing for, hosting and running the event,” Fournier said. “Due to turnover during the pandemic, this was the first such event for nearly all the User Office administrative team, and they did a marvelous job managing the logistics and dealing with numerous vendors, complying with the Lab’s and DOE’s procedures and requirements, managing sponsor interactions and making everyone who attended feel welcome and valued.”

The meeting organizers and support staff included: Meaghan McDonald, Anthony “Aj” Salaices, Rachel Ghilarducci, Debbie Bradford, Stephanie Lahman, Amy Rohrbacker, Mary Orrett, Jason Laurea, David Alyea, Chalena Ramirez, Dionne Hidalgo, Gabrielle Gutierrez, Renee Roberts, Mary Harrington, Natalie Rowland, MariAnn Albrecht, Amanda Eaton and Jill Stevens. 

General Atomics, Sydor Technologies, LUXEL, Nevada National Security Site and the University of California Office of the President sponsored a social event at Da Boccery in Livermore.

—Jon Kawamoto