On 13 December 2022, a major milestone has been achieved at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL) in the USA. At the world's largest laser facility, the National Ignition Facility (NIF) ‘breakeven’ has been obtained for the first time meaning that the amount of energy released by fusion products exceeded the energy used to initiate the thermonuclear reactions. 

The news is particularly significant to Oxford's Department of Physics, the home of the Oxford Centre for high Energy Density Science (OxCHEDS). The centre has contributed with training students and postdocs in associated research fields as well as developing new fusion concepts that could achieve much higher energy gains – a necessary requirement for a fusion power plant that may address some of today's energy and environmental issues. 

This success rests upon the work done by many scientists in the US, UK and around the world as summarised in a recent publication in Physical Review Letters: Lawson criterion for ignition exceeded in an inertial fusion experiment. The paper lays the basis of what has been achieved in these last results; Oxford’s Professor Gregori and Professor Wark from the Department of Physics are co-authors. 

With ignition now achieved, not only has fusion energy been unlocked, but also a door has been opened to new science,’ comments Professor Gianluca Gregori, Fellow of Lady Margaret Hall. ‘Inertial fusion-related research promises a four-order-of-magnitude increase in thermal neutron source brightness, thereby revolutionising neutron scattering for applications across the natural sciences, from biochemistry to life sciences. Fundamental physics of supernovae explosions and radiation dominated plasmas is now accessible. 

'Our research groups in the Department of Physics have already been leading experiments at the National Ignition Facility laser to study processes related to astrophysical turbulence and magnetic field generation in galaxy clusters, and to unravel the dynamics of matter compressed under extreme pressures as found in the cores of giant planets’. 

Please find more information about this terrific breakthrough on the Department of Physics website.