Energy-tracking technique may lead to controlled nuclear fusion

A visualization of energy flow during fast-ignition experiments.
A visualization of energy flow during fast-ignition experiments. | Courtesy of UC San DIego

A team of researchers from General Atomics and the University of California at San Diego (UCSD) have developed a technique that could lead to controlled nuclear-fusion technology -- and potentially a limitless supply of clean energy --- the university said this week.

Through the use of fast ignition, a process used to initiate nuclear-fusion reactions with a high-intensity laser, the team developed a process to track energy flows and utilize this knowledge in modifying energy delivery to their fuel target.

"Before we developed this technique, it was as if we were looking in the dark,” Christopher McGuffey, the study’s co-author and assistant project scientist with the High Energy Density Physics Group at UCSD, said. “Now we can better understand where energy is being deposited so we can investigate new experimental designs to improve delivery of energy to the fuel."

To be able to determine energy flow, researchers utilized copper tracers within a fuel capsule. Electrons that hit these tracers allowed researchers to visualize the resulting X-rays.

Should it be developed, nuclear fusion technology could theoretically provide an infinite energy source. This is the same process that takes place in stars, including Earth's sun.

The study was published in the most recent issue of the online journal Nature Physics, released Jan. 11.

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University of California, San Diego

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