Micro-scale nuclear fusion was demonstrated in a Colorado State University laboratory by means of heating The target chamber (front) and ultra-high density laser (back) used in the micro-scale fusion experiments. Source: Advanced Beam LaboratoryThe target chamber (front) and ultra-high density laser (back) used in the micro-scale fusion experiments. Source: Advanced Beam Laboratorynanowire arrays with a compact and powerful laser. The research posted record-setting efficiency for the generation of neutrons — chargeless sub-atomic particles resulting from the fusion process.

Laser-driven controlled fusion experiments are typically conducted with multi-hundred-million-dollar lasers housed in stadium-sized buildings and are usually geared toward harnessing fusion for clean energy applications.

The research team took a DIY approach by building an ultra-fast, high-powered tabletop laser from scratch. The fast, pulsed laser was used to irradiate a target of deuterated polyethylene nanowires and instantly created extremely hot, dense plasmas — with conditions approaching those inside the sun. These plasmas drive fusion reactions, giving off helium and flashes of energetic neutrons.

A record number of neutrons per unit of laser energy was produced, about 500 times better than experiments that use conventional flat targets from the same material.

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.

The research is published in Nature Communications.

To contact the author of this article, email shimmelstein@globalspec.com