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Laser-plasma interactions relevant to Inertial Confinement Fusion

Description: Research into laser-driven inertial confinement fusion is now entering a critical juncture with the construction of the National Ignition Facility (NIF) at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL). Many of the remaining unanswered questions concerning NIF involve interactions between lasers and plasmas. With the eventual goal of fusion power in mind, laser-plasma interactions relevant to laser fusion schemes is an important topic in need of further research. This work experimentally addresses some potential shortcuts and pitfalls on the road to laser-driven fusion power. Current plans on NIF have 192 laser beams directed into a small cylindrical cavity which will contain the fusion fuel; to accomplish this the beams must cross in the entrance holes, and this intersection will be in the presence of outward-flowing plasma. To investigate the physics involved, interactions of crossing laser beams in flowing plasmas are investigated with experiments on the Nova laser facility at LLNL. It was found that in a flowing plasma, energy is transferred between two crossing laser beams, and this may have deleterious consequences for energy balance and ignition in NIF. Possible solutions to this problem are presented. A recently-proposed alternative to standard laser-driven fusion, the ''fast ignitor'' concept, is also experimentally addressed in this dissertation. Many of the laser-plasma interactions necessary for the success of the fast ignitor have not previously been explored at the relevant laser intensities. Specifically, the transfer of high-intensity laser energy to electrons at solid-target interfaces is addressed. 20-30% conversion efficiencies into forward-propagated electrons were measured, along with an average electron energy that varied with the type of target material. The directionality of the electrons was also measured, revealing an apparent beaming of the highest energy electrons. This work was extended to various intensities and pulse lengths and a relationship between conversion efficiency and laser intensity was deduced. This ...
Date: November 2, 1998
Creator: Wharton, K.B.
Partner: UNT Libraries Government Documents Department