NIF laser glass-making facility opens

The National Ignition Facility (NIF) reached another major milestone in late January, but it was not achieved at the Lawrence Livermore construction site. It came with the opening of Hoya Corporation's laser glass-manufacturing facility in Fremont, California. Constructed at a cost of $12 million, the 32,000-square-foot facility will provide neodymium-doped laser amplification glass for NIF and for the French government's Laser Megajoule (LMJ) project currently under construction in Bordeaux, France.
The Hoya facility will manufacture the some 3,000 ultrahigh-quality glass slabs required by NIF. Produced at the rate of about 10 per day, each 790- by 440-millimeter, violet-hued slab will weigh more than 100 pounds and be capable of amplifying laser energy by 14 percent.
According to Mike Campbell, Associate Director of Laser Programs at Livermore, these glass slabs are "the heart of the laser," its "single most essential component."
NIF will be the world's largest optical instrument with 192 laser beams, each 40 centimeters in diameter, focused on a tiny fusion target. NIF experiments are designed to produce fusion ignition in the laboratory for the first time in history, creating temperatures and pressures similar to those found in the sun and some stars and in exploding nuclear weapons. These experiments will help the U.S. ensure the safety and reliability of its nuclear weapons without nuclear tests. They will also demonstrate the scientific feasibility of fusion energy and contribute to scientific understanding in astrophysics and other basic sciences.
The Hoya facility's 45 employees, most from the Fremont area, will produce more than $50 million of laser glass over the next 10 years for the NIF and LMJ projects.
Contact: Gordon Yano (925) 423-3227 (yano1@llnl.gov).

Lab helps capture first gamma burst images

Using a robotic camera, designed in part at Lawrence Livermore, astronomers recently captured images for the first time of visible light from a gamma-ray burst, a mysterious deep-space eruption more powerful than the energy of 10 million billion stars. These bursts occur with no warning and last so briefly that they previously could not be captured on film.
The burst that occurred in the early morning of January 23 was, however, a different story. The gamma-ray-burst detectors of the Burst and Transient Source Experiment on board NASA's orbiting Compton Gamma Ray Observatory detected the beginning of a bright and relatively long-lived gamma-ray burst, which lasted a total of 110 seconds. Onboard computers determined its rough location and radioed the position to the Gamma Ray Burst Coordinates Network (GCN) based at Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland, which immediately forwarded it to observatories throughout the world.
Just 22 seconds later, the Robotic Optical Transient Search Experiment (ROTSE) in Los Alamos, New Mexico, took images of the patch of sky where the burst was reported.
The data acquisition system used to process the information from the ROTSE collaboration's telescope camera was designed by ROTSE participants Stuart Marshall, an astrophysicist at Livermore's Institute of Geophysics and Planetary Physics, and Robert Kehoe of the University of Michigan.
Although the camera's response time was longer than the normal 10 seconds, Marshall was delighted with the results. "I never expected we'd see anything this bright," he marveled.
Astronomers are not certain what produces gamma-ray bursts, but possible causes include the merger of two neutron stars, two black holes, or a neutron star and a black hole or the explosion of a hypernova, believed to be a type of supernova or exploding star.
"This is the Holy Grail for the [GCN]," said Scott Barthelmy, the astronomer who developed and runs the network at Goddard. "Optical telescopes had seen the afterglow of a burst, but never the burst itself. This observation will help us understand the physical processes behind the bursting."
Contact: Stuart Marshall (925) 422-4872 (marshall9@llnl.gov).

Lab-Russian collaboration creates new element

Nuclear physicists from Lawrence Livermore working in collaboration with a team of Russian scientists from the Joint Institute for Nuclear Research in Dubna, Russia, have announced the creation of a new ultraheavy element-element 114. Using isotopes provided by Livermore, the Russian-U.S. team bombarded a plutonium-244 target with calcium-48 atoms to create the new element.
The excitement generated by the discovery stems largely from the stability of the new element, the nucleus of which is believed to consist of 114 protons and 184 neutrons. Unlike other manufactured heavy elements, element 114 is relatively long-lived, surviving for 30 seconds-as opposed to mere microseconds-before decaying. And some of element 114's decay particles lived for an unheard-of 16.5 minutes.
The significance of element 114's long life is the support it gives to the theory that the more densely packed the nucleus of heavy elements, the more stable they are. This stability should make it easier for scientists to study the chemical properties of these manufactured elements to see if they match those of more familiar, naturally occurring elements.
The Livermore team, which includes John Wild, Ronald Laugheed, Kenton Moody, Nancy Stoyer, and Mark Stoyer, is working with their Russian collaborators, led by Yuri Oganessian and Vladimir Utyonkov, to confirm element 114's creation and prepare a formal report on their experimental results.
Contact: John Wild (925) 422-6651 (wild1@llnl.gov).
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