Project Physics

This spring, University of Rochester's Laboratory for Laser Energetics (LLE) will begin a new round of fusion power experiments. LLE uses the world's most powerful laser system, called Omega, to hammer a tiny B-B-size pellet with 60 laser beams converging from all angles. In theory, such a set-up could make the pellet hotter than the sun and trigger fusion. But that won't happen until Omega, already the size of a football field, is expanded and beefed up with stronger lasers.

However, Bruce has now solved one former problem: nonuniform pellets. For laser fusion to work, the pellet must heat up, from the outside in, with absolute symmetry. Only then will its core deuterium atoms fuse together efficiently. Deuterium atoms are hydrogen atoms with an extra neutron, which helps catalyze the fusion reaction. Compared to today's nuclear energy plants, which liberate energy by splitting monster atoms of uranium, fusion energy promises cheap, relatively clean, and inexhaustible power. Fusion could produce as much energy as all the world's oil reserves from the deuterium in just an inch-deep body of seawater the size of Lake Michigan.

Until now, LLE's experiments were hampered by poor-quality pellets. While the existence of nonuniformities were apparent in so-called shadowgraphs — a type of X-ray — these images lack the resolution needed to precisely locate microscopic defects inside the 1-mm-diameter spheres. So Bruce developed software that analyzes dozens of shadowgraphs taken from different directions and combines this data--using an algorithm he created — into a three-dimensional model that shows the location and shape of imperfections. LLE expects this new tool will enable it to make defect-free pellets.

See the Questionaire>>
COMMENTS On The Issues

Alternative Energy Sources: Of all the issues listed, I think the most important one is finding alternative energy sources. Although we aren't certain when we will run out of oil, most experts agree that it will be sometime in the near future — certainly this century. When it does occur, I think it will cause huge problems. But this doesn't seem to be a very big issue for the politicians right now.


Bruce Brewington

Fairport High School
Fairport, N.Y.

Hobbies: Juggling, playing Magic: The Gathering (board game) and competing in Magic tournaments

Ambition: Mathematics research, probably as a professor