Science and Technology Making Headlines
Dec. 8, 2023
The U.S. Department of Energy is creating three research hubs in the hopes of harnessing miniature laser-driven thermonuclear explosions for future power plants, officials announced on Thursday.
The three hubs — based at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California, Colorado State University and the University of Rochester in New York State — will share a total of $42 million over four years.
The research effort will be “focused more on the underlying technologies needed for any inertial fusion system,” said Scott Hsu, the lead fusion coordinator at the Department of Energy.
Most fusion energy research to date, and most of the department’s fusion science budget, has focused on reactors that use powerful magnetic fields to contain super-hot hydrogen until the nuclei collide and combine. But a successful experiment last year at the National Ignition Facility, or NIF, at Livermore highlighted a different approach — firing powerful lasers at a single pellet of hydrogen, squeezing its atoms together to generate a flash of fusion.
Kim Budil, director of Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL), visited The Ohio State University’s Columbus campus recently and shared insights about the Laboratory’s cutting-edge work in addressing national security concerns.
Budil is the first woman to lead LLNL, where she manages a workforce of approximately 8,400 employees and oversees an annual operating budget of $3 billion. Founded in 1952 and located in Livermore, California, LLNL employs innovative science and technology to address nuclear proliferation, terrorism, climate change and other national security threats.
“Informal leadership roles are really an important part of what got me to where I am today. And that includes things like being on committees or outside activities,” Budil said. “I headed up our women in science and engineering group. I chaired the parent advisory council at our children’s center. Each of those gave me a chance to learn part of what it takes to lead people.”
Software implementation in high-performance computing is getting more fragmented as organizations opt for tools in their walled garden environments.
However, a new organization formed under the Linux Foundation could bring some order to the chaos. The non-profit at Supercomputing 2023 announced its intent to create the High-Performance Software Foundation (HPSF), which will encourage developing and sharing development tools for massive computing resources.
Public-private participation also should boost software innovation through collaboration.
U.S. national labs, including Lawrence Livermore, that are part of the Department of Energy’s Exascale Computing Project are joining the project and will make contributions, said Lori Diachin, project director at the DOE.
HPC began in the 1940s and has fragmented over time due to limited access to computing resources because of security concerns, researchers from Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory and the National Center for Supercomputing Applications said in a research paper published this year.
The US and the UK have announced a “major new partnership” in fusion technology, advancing the “shared goal of ending the climate crisis”, officials said. The agreement came from the US Department of Energy and the UK’s Department for Energy Security and Net Zero during a meeting in Washington last month.
Thousands of scientists and engineers have been working for decades on nuclear fusion, which attempts to replicate how atoms fuse together to power the sun and other stars, producing vast amounts of energy that can be turned into electricity.
A major breakthrough was announced in late 2022 after a team from the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory for the first time achieved a “net energy gain” – producing more energy in a fusion reaction than was used to ignite it.
The major selling point of fusion is that, unlike other nuclear reactions, it doesn’t create radioactive waste.
The new US-UK partnership will see fusion scientists on both sides of the Atlantic collaborate on R&D, share knowledge and access to facilities in an attempt to make fusion commercially viable.
Two Lawrence Livermore National Lab scientists received international recognition last month for their contributions to physics.
The American Physical Society (APS) named Manyalibo “Ibo” Matthews, division leader of the LLNL Materials Science Division, and Frank Graziani, director of the LLNL High Energy Density Science Center, as 2023 APS fellows through their peer-election process.
Matthews was selected “for pioneering research in optimizing metal 3D printing and laser materials processing,” in which very thin layers of fine metal powder are deposited and selectively melted by a laser to build up a desired shape.
Matthews joined the lab in 2006, where he has served as a program group leader in LLNL’s National Ignition Facility, in addition to his work in the Materials Science Division.
Graniani said that he joined LLNL when Vasco Road had no houses, Dublin was almost nonexistent and traffic along the I-580 was thin. His interest in high energy density science led him to study the interiors of giant planets, the fusion reactions of stars and the inertial-confinement fusion capsules of NIF.
Three national defense labs, including Lawrence Livermore, are engaged in the process of building a test site, one thousand feet under the ground in Albuquerque, New Mexico, that will send powerful X-rays and verify the reliability of the country's nuclear stockpile.
The U.S. nuclear program heavily relied on actual testing of warheads to determine if its stockpile could serve as a deterrent when called upon. This, however, changed in 1992, after then-President George H.W. Bush signed a law calling for a moratorium on nuclear testing.
Since then, the nation has relied on computer-based modeling to determine the performance of its 3,750-warhead-strong nuclear stockpile. Thirty years on, the U.S. is well aware that the models are only as good as the data used to make them and its current simulations rely on data collected by exploding surrogate material instead of plutonium.
Plutonium displays six different crystal structures between room temperature and melting and an additional seventh when pressure is slightly elevated. Out of these, three structures are unique to plutonium and no surrogate material can replicate them. Along with Los Alamos and Lawrence Livermore national laboratories, Sandia is building a $1.8 billion project, dubbed Scorpius, that will use X-rays to check plutonium compressed to levels just before it reaches criticality - the point where it would result in a nuclear explosion.