|22 Feb 2023|
Dr George Swadling (03), was part of a team of scientists who made the breakthrough in nuclear fusion at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL) in December 2022.
Nuclear fusion is the process by which atomic nuclei can be “fused” together to form larger atoms, releasing energy. This process powers our sun – hydrogen atoms are fused into helium in the core, releasing energy which we rely on to warm and light the earth. Controlled nuclear fusion has long been pursued as a means for generating electrical power on earth. In typical fusion experiments, energy is delivered to fusion fuel to heat and compress it to the point where it begins to fuse. In a recent experiment, the LLNL team were able to achieve fusion “ignition” for the first time - the experiment released more energy from the fusion burn than was used to initialize the reaction. This is a critical step forward towards a future fusion energy power plant.
The Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory's National Ignition Facility (NIF) in California where this experiment was conducted is a huge laser facility roughly the size of a football stadium. During the experiment 192 laser beams in the target chamber of the NIF delivered more than 2 million joules of ultraviolet energy to a tiny fuel pellet to create fusion ignition on 5 December 2022. Laser power delivered to the target peaked at ~460 TW, over 200x the average power consumption of the entire world! The experiment released 3.15 megajoules (MJ) of fusion energy while the lasers delivered 2.05 MJ into the target chamber. This created a gain of 1.54, or, one and a half times the energy input. Although a significantly higher energy gain will be required for commercial power production, the result of this experiment signifies an enormous step forward and achieves the 'holy grail' of fusion research.
Fusion has the potential to provide a near-limitless, safe and clean source of carbon-free energy. It is hoped that Fusion could complement renewables by filing supply-gaps and thereby will allow us to move away from fossil-fuels.
Dr George Swadling was educated at Churcher's College between 1996 and 2003 and was inspired by Dr Pumphrey, a Physics teacher at that time. It is hoped that George will be able to speak to our current A Level Physics students on his next visit to the UK.