Laser-Heated Nanowires Produce Micro-Scale Nuclear Fusion With Record Efficiency

Micro-scale fusion in dense relativistic nanowire array plasmas. (source: Advanced Bean Laboratory)

The target chamber (front) and ultra-high density laser (back) used in the micro-scale fusion experiments at CSU. (source: Advanced Bean Laboratory)

June 18, 2018 | Source: Colorado State University, engr.source.colostate.edu, 14 Mar 2018, Anne Manning

Nuclear fusion, the process that powers our sun, happens when nuclear reactions between light elements produce heavier ones. It’s also happening – at a smaller scale – in a Colorado State University laboratory.

Using a compact but powerful laser to heat arrays of ordered nanowires, CSU scientists and collaborators have demonstrated micro-scale nuclear fusion in the lab. They have achieved record-setting efficiency for the generation of neutrons – chargeless sub-atomic particles resulting from the fusion process. Their work is detailed in a paper published in Nature Communications, and is led by Jorge Rocca, University Distinguished Professor in electrical and computer engineering and physics. The paper’s first author is Alden Curtis, a CSU graduate student.

Making fusion neutrons efficiently, at a small scale, could lead to advances in neutron-based imaging, and neutron probes to gain insight on the structure and properties of materials. The results also contribute to understanding interactions of ultra-intense laser light with matter.