Lawrence Livermore Lab’s long overdue fusion generator (the National Ignition Facility) is un-officially finished. At a cost of roughly $4 billion dollars, hopes are for the NIF to boil hydrogen to the point that it reaches fusion and for that fusion reaction to ultimately reach the point of “ignition” — that is, when the experiment becomes self-sustainable.
To do that requires some pretty snazzy computing skills though!
Every NIF experimental shot requires the coordination of up to 60,000 control points for electronic, high voltage, optical and mechanical devices – motorized mirrors and lenses, energy and power sensors, video cameras, laser amplifiers and diagnostic instruments. Achieving this level of precision requires a large-scale computer control system as sophisticated as any in government service or private industry. The meticulous orchestration of these parts will result in the propagation of 192 separate nanosecond-long bursts of light over a one-kilometer path length. The 192 separate beams must have optical pathlengths equal to within nine millimeters so that the pulses can arrive within 30 picoseconds of each other at the center of the target chamber. Then they must strike within 50 micrometers of their assigned spot on a target the size of a pencil eraser. Because the precise alignment of NIF’s laser beams is extremely important for successful operation, the requirements for vibrational, thermal and seismic stability are unusually demanding. Critical components, weighing tens of tons, were located to a precision of 100 microns using a rigorous engineering process for design validation and as-installed verification.
Well, at least if it fails the engineers can say they didn’t waste their time playing Crysis.
(via Wikipedia’s home page 3/31/09)