What is the NIF? Located in California, the NIF is a large facility housing two humongous lasers. The facility is part of the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory. Basically, NIF's main purpose is to focus lasers on a small, compressed amount of hydrogen until fusion occurs. NIF is the largest inertial confinement fusion built to date, since the project began back in 1997. Consisting of two laser bays, the NIF is capable of over 1.8 megajoules of laser energy. The laser target bay looks like something out of Star Wars:
The target itself (pictured below) is tiny compared to the chamber. The target is called a hahlraum, and holds the hydrogen fuel capsules. Beautiful, in its own ominous way:
The target chamber itself is huge, each laser having its own entry point. The chamber contains temperatures of over 100 million degrees, and pressures extreme enough to compress the target up to 100 times denser than LED. The chamber is equipped with hundreds of measuring devices ready to measure every minute detail and event occurring:
The lasers themselves are quite complicated in function. Simply put, a large "flash" of light is created by several xenon (pronounced zee-non) lamps, then amplified to desired energy levels and released on the target. If you're not familiar with xenon lamps, pick up your average flash camera, and take a closer look at the flash. The small tube you see inside contains xenon, and when large amounts of energy travel through the gas, it produces a bright flash of light. The NIF uses a similar concept, however on a much larger scale. Here's a very complicated schematic of how the lasers work:
For an equally complicated explanation, click here.
A video demonstration:
Basically, NIF aims to create usable, manageable fusion in a small, confined space. How difficult is this? Extremely difficult. The NIF, if functioning as desired, would be giving birth to a small sun in a metal sphere. The potential for nuclear fusion is profound; if this project succeeds, it could end the world energy crisis. Conceptually, the only fuel needed would be salt water, and a lot of laser energy. Ideally, the reaction itself would be enough to provide energy for the function of the lasers, as well as provide plenty of energy left over for practical use. For more information, photos and more, see their website here.