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NIF Fusion BreakthroughNIF Fusion Breakthrough©️ John Jett & Jake Long / Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory

Creating the energy of the sun in California: laser fusion using G&H crystal technology


On December 5th, 2022, the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL) through its National Ignition Facility (NIF) achieved fusion ignition using inertial confinement fusion (ICF) above breakeven for the first time in history. This powerful laser uses G&H’s self-grown KDP and KD*P crystals, components found in the laser’s Plasma Electrode Pockels Cell (PEPC) and the final optics assembly that helped to consistently deliver the necessary laser energy levels required to achieve fusion ignition. G&H representatives recently visited NIF, witnessing the latest developments on optics and photonics that led to the breakthrough in fusion energy generated.

Known as one of the 7 Wonders of NIF, KD*P or KD2PO4 crystals (potassium phosphate crystals with deuterium substituted for hydrogen) have continuously been improved at G&H in Highland Heights, Ohio. KD*P grows in heavy water salt solutions and takes up to 2 years to grow, weighing up to 400 kg upon completion. These crystals are then cut and polished into finished optics larger than 40 x 40 cm in the Gooch & Housego facility.

Crystal BoulesCrystal Boules©️ G&H

“G&H crystals play an important role in the success of NIF’s experimentation process. Our KD*P crystals are responsible for converting the infrared laser energy into ultraviolet, that ultimately is focused onto the target to create the necessary X-rays responsible for starting the fusion process. Our unique crystal growth capability facilitates LLNL’s pursuit of fusion ignition – which has been a scientific grand challenge,” says Dr. Matthew Whittaker, Crystal Growth and ICF Manager at G&H. “We are committed to continue supporting the next steps and expansion of this technology toward a clean energy future.”

These specific crystals are a critical part for NIF’s frequency tripled, high-energy Neodymium (Nd)-glass lasers. They are used as frequency converters to generate the UV light and as electro-optic switches within the PEPC. 

Gooch & Housego has collaborated with LLNL and NIF for decades, in particular through the development of large aperture crystalline optics. The underlying root for this prolific partnership lies in our company’s consistency in producing reliable crystals which enable NIF to operate at higher laser fluence, time and time again.

Stratos Kehayas, PhD, G&H President of PhotonicsStratos Kehayas, PhD, G&H President of Photonics©️ G&H

“Pushing the performance envelope in optics and photonics has always been a driving force behind our R&D efforts, with crystal growth for ICF being core to our technology roadmap” says Stratos Kehayas, President of Photonics at G&H. “As LLNL scientists focus on constantly improving yield on NIF and supporting other missions, we will be here to support them with our newest innovations in terms of crystal optics.”

Our KPD and KD*P crystals made in our Cleveland US facility, among other components, are paving a steady way for history to be made in the fusion sector. As such, our teams are ready to transform the 60+ year-old dream of nuclear fusion into reality with the power of photonics.

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