Lab Report

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The Lab Report is a weekly compendium of media reports on science and technology achievements at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory. Though the Laboratory reviews items for overall accuracy, the reporting organizations are responsible for the content in the links below.

Sept. 10, 2021

target chamber

The NIF Target Bay, which also served as the set for the engine room of the Starship Enterprise in the 2013 film "Star Trek: Into Darkness."

Getting closer to the holy grail

With a powerful laser zap, scientists have blasted toward a milestone for nuclear fusion.

A fusion experiment at the world’s biggest laser facility released 1.3 million joules of energy, coming close to a break-even point known as ignition, where fusion begins to release more energy than required to detonate it. Reaching ignition would strengthen hopes that fusion could one day serve as a clean, plentiful energy source, a goal that scientists have struggled to make progress toward.

By pummeling a tiny capsule with lasers at the National Ignition Facility, or NIF, at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, scientists triggered fusion reactions that churned out more than 10 quadrillion watts of power over 100 trillionths of a second. In all, the experiment, performed last month, released about 70 percent of the energy of the laser light used to set off the fusion reactions, putting the facility much closer to ignition than ever before.

Notably, because the capsule absorbs only a portion of the total laser energy focused on it, the reactions actually produced more energy than directly went into igniting them.

BASIS

Air samples are collected by this BioWatch detector installed outside a New York City police station.

Something in the air

Less than a month after 9/11, 14 Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL) employees received calls at their homes at 1 a.m. on a Saturday morning (Oct. 6, 2001) and were asked to report to the Lab within three hours, without being told where they were going or when they would return.

Their mission, in tandem with colleagues from Los Alamos, was to place air sampling equipment in Washington, D.C. and to establish a sample processing laboratory. Since the spring of 2000, a team of biologists, computer scientists and engineers from both national laboratories had been developing a detection system that could alert authorities of bioterrorist attacks to protect American cities.

Known then as the Biological Aerosol Sentry and Information System, the BASIS detection system was developed at the behest of the Department of Energy (DOE), which wanted to field the system at the 2002 Salt Lake City Winter Olympics and have it ready a year early for a full-scale test.

The early readiness of BASIS in March 2001 turned out to be an asset for the nation later that year, following the 9/11 terrorist attacks and anthrax mailings, when the 1 a.m. call came and a detection system was needed to protect Washington, D.C. Now, more than two decades later, much of that system is still in place today and still operational.

reactor

LLNL researchers and collaborators have demonstrated that 3D printing can be used to rapidly enhance electrochemical reactors for CO2 conversion, increasing efficiency while broadening fundamental understanding of the reactions. Illustration by Veronica Chen/LLNL.

sci tech

Converting CO2 through 3D printing

Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL) scientists and their collaborators are leveraging the power of 3D printing to improve the performance of electrochemical reactors used to convert carbon dioxide (CO2) to useful energy sources, chemicals and material feedstocks.

Working under a cooperative research and development agreement (CRADA) with Stanford University and oil and gas company Total American Services, LLNL researchers and their team have, for the first time, demonstrated that 3D printing can be used to rapidly enhance electrochemical reactors for CO2 conversion, increasing efficiency while broadening fundamental understanding of the reactions.

The research team proved that through 3D printing reactor components, they could produce higher yields of desirable fuels and feedstocks such as ethanol and ethylene through “vapor-fed” electrochemical systems and accelerate the process of building state-of-the-art reactors from weeks to days or hours.

Martian auroras

Images taken by Hope’s onboard spectrometer (left-hand panel) and an artist’s impression (right) show discrete auroras on Mars’ night side. Image courestsy of Emirates Mars Mission.

Technology Org Logo

On the dark side

The United Arab Emirates’ Mars mission that launched about a year ago has recently captured the most detailed images of auroras in the Martian sky.

The optics used to capture these images include a silicon carbide-coated mirror and diffraction grating for the Emirates Mars Ultraviolet Spectrometer (EMUS) that were developed by researchers at Lawrence Livermore and collaborators at the Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics at the University of Colorado.

The Hope Probe is designed to study Mars’ atmosphere across all its layers and at a global scale throughout the different seasons over the course of a Martian year. But the new finding is outside that main science plan and occurred even before the probe’s formal science mission had begun, when scientists were testing the instruments on the spacecraft. In images from EMUS, scientists easily spotted the highly localized nightside aurora that scientists have struggled to study at Mars for decades.

X-ray movies

The Bipolar Reset Experiment (BIRX) was conducted at Site 300.

Lights, camera, X-rays

Lawrence Livermore scientists are working on a new diagnostic capability that will provide, for the first time, the ability to make X-ray radiographic movies.

The first experiment testing the principle, dubbed the Bipolar Reset Experiment, was conducted at LLNL's Flash X-Ray deep-penetration radiographic facility at Site 300. The team has been focusing on accelerating the FXR electron beam using active reset induction cells driven by bipolar solid-state pulsers.

Nathaniel Pogue, accelerator physics group leader in LLNL's National Security Engineering Division, said the experiment demonstrated the first time that a solid-state pulsed-power system has been used to accelerate (provide energy gain), to kiloamps of electron beam. It also is the first time that a bipolar solid-state pulsed-power system has been used to accelerate kiloamps of electron beam. This shows rapid growth and maturation of the bipolar pulsed-power technology and accelerator hardware, as well as the ingenuity and resourcefulness of the LLNL team.

"This work will allow scientists to create X-ray movies of items of interest with each frame being 10s to 100s of nanoseconds apart once a full accelerator is made," he said, adding that each beam pulse acts as a frame in the movie.