In what promises to be an intellectual cauldron for cutting-edge physics, an October 4-6 workshop organized by MIT will explore the range of applications for a facility that will create temperatures and densities many times those at the center of the sun.
The National Ignition Facility (NIF) aims to be the first device in the world to achieve controlled thermonuclear ignition, the process that lights stars. If successful, it holds promise as a means to develop a future energy source, for studying physics related to how stars shine, and for simulating critical aspects of nuclear-weapons functions. Key to the effort are lasers that will be aimed at a chamber containing a BB-sized pellet of hydrogen fuel. Laser activation is scheduled for the end of 2002.
The workshop, " Frontier Science at the National Ignition Facility, Episode I," will be held near the NIF site in Pleasanton, CA. It will bring together physicists from around the world in a variety of fields.
"The goal is to brainstorm the best possible science that can be explored with this facility," said Dr. Richard Petrasso, senior research scientist at MIT's Plasma Science and Fusion Center (PSFC) and chair of the workshop.
To that end, the 150 participants who have registered to date will hear several keynote talks about the facility itself then divide into six working groups. Scientists in those groups will then brainstorm how the NIF could advance science in fields ranging from astrophysics to fusion energy. Papers presented within each group will help focus the discussions.
"The fun is going to be watching how people come together and struggle with these questions," Dr. Petrasso said. A key deliverable: white papers that not only present feasible NIF projects in different areas, but also address funding and timelines.
The following PSFC scientists will be presenting papers at the workshop: postdoctoral associate Damien Hicks, research scientist Chikang Li, PSFC consultant Frederick Seguin and principal research engineer Leslie Bromberg.
The workshop is sponsored in part by MIT. For more information or to register, contact Dr. Petrasso at firstname.lastname@example.org or x3-8458.
A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on September 29, 1999.