Omega laser facility defunding: U-M experts available
Budget recommendations from the U.S. Department of Energy include eliminating funding for the University of Rochester’s Laboratory of Laser Energetics. The lab is home to the Omega laser, which has played a key role in research into both fusion energy and nuclear weapons. Fusion is widely considered the holy grail in clean energy research.
The Laboratory of Laser Energetics annually hosts 400 scientists from 55 universities across 21 countries. Many U-M scientists and engineers in various fields rely on the Omega laser in their research and can discuss the impacts of its closure.
R. Paul Drake is the Henry S. Carhart Professor of Space Sciences.
“The proposed cuts are particularly focused on eliminating the primary ways that we train scientists to understand the high-pressure and high-temperature conditions that matter for both fusion energy and nuclear weapons, especially by terminating the operation of the Omega laser facility,” he said. “Continuing the operation of the laser is essential to sustaining the flow of relevantly trained scientists into the nuclear security laboratories as the baby boom generation continues to retire.
“The present administration seems particularly devoted to using our nuclear weapons capabilities as part of its diplomacy. This makes it extraordinarily strange they are seeking to choke off the programs by which we develop the knowledge and scientists essential to sustaining these capabilities.”
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Carolyn Kuranz is director of the Center for Laser Experimental Astrophysical Research and an associate research scientist of climate and space sciences and engineering.
“I’ve done research at the Omega laser facility for the past 15 years,” she said. “I have supervised the research of several University of Michigan Ph.D. students, and the majority of my 100 publications were from work done at Omega. Closing down the facility will be a huge loss to the entire field of high-energy-density physics, which creates matter under extreme conditions and has significance in astrophysics, material science and nuclear physics, as well as fusion energy research and national security.
“Europe and Asia are making large investments in similar facilities and progressing at an alarming pace. Omega cannot be closed. Instead, it must be maintained and enhanced so that it can continue producing high-impact research and be a model for a world-class research facility.”
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Ryan McBride is an associate professor of nuclear engineering and radiological sciences.
“The Omega laser facility has been the training ground for generations of high-energy-density physicists and laser scientists across the U.S., and it has had far-reaching impact across the national labs and science in general,” he said. “Closing this facility would be a huge setback to our healthy and growing field of high-energy-density physics.
“Closing Omega would send the wrong message to students considering entering our field. It sends the message that the U.S. is not interested in high-energy-density physics which, to my knowledge, is not the case.”
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Louise Willingale is an assistant professor of electrical engineering and computer science. She studies relativistic intensity laser-plasma interactions and laser driven ion acceleration.
“For approaching a decade, I have been lucky enough to have experimental access to the Omega laser facility,” she said. “My work, and that of several other U-M faculty members, would be severely impacted by the closure of the facility. The laser parameters, and therefore high-energy density conditions we require for our experiments, are simply unavailable elsewhere in the U.S., or even worldwide.”
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