The Physics
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Power of the Strongest Laser

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Bibliographic Entry Result
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Applications to Basic Science. Public Affairs Office. Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory. May, 1997. "With 40 times the energy and 10 times the power of the Nova laser, significant new developments are anticipated in all of the following areas…." 1000 TW
Additional Information about Nova Operations. LLNL's Laser Programs. Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory. "It consists of a 120-terawatt (TW) neodymium glass laser that can be directed into two target chambers for inertial confinement fusion experiments." 120 TW
The Guinness Book of Records. Bantam, 1994: 195. "It's [Nova] 10 arms produce laser pulses capable of generating 100 × 1012 W of power, much of which is delivered to a target the size of a grain of sand in 1 × 10−19 sec." 100 TW
Harbison, James P. Lasers: Harnessing the Atom's Light. New York: Scientific American, 1998: 197. "This ten-beam Nova laser at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory is roughly the length of an entire football field and is capable of delivering a pulse with a total peak power of 10,000,000,000,000 watts!" 10 TW
Muncheryan, Hrand M. Principles and Practices of Laser Technology. Pennsylvania: Tab, 1980: 235. "When completed, it is expected to produce 2 × 105 joules an a power density of 100 terawatts/cm2 from its Nd-glass laser." 100 TW/cm2
(power density)

The largest and most powerful laser in the world is the NOVA laser. It is located at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California. The NOVA laser is about as long as a football field and is three stories high. The power of the NOVA laser is approximately 1.0 × 1014 watts (100 terawatts).

The main aim to produce a laser this powerful is to reproduce the conditions in the center of the sun. The energy produced by the sun results from the process of fusion. The NOVA laser is used to fuse hydrogen atom and produce helium. During this process, enormous amounts of energy are released. For the hydrogen atoms to fuse, they have to be under tremendous pressure and temperature (20 million kelvin). The amount of energy released from fusion is about 1 million times greater than from any chemical reaction. The use of the NOVA laser will help decrease pollution. This is because the fusion energy is relatively clean and safe. Today, many of the fuels that we depend on for energy (like coal) produce air pollution. Similarly, the energy from nuclear reactors leave radioactive wastes behind. The energy derived from the fusion process is not only greater but will also not pollute the air. The Earth also has an abundant supply of heavy hydrogen (deuterium and tritium) to fuel the fusion process in the NOVA laser to release energy for everyone on the planet for millions of years.

Although the NOVA currently is the largest and the most powerful laser, the National Ignition Facility (NIF) is planning to build a laser that would be ten times more powerful.

Liza Li -- 1999

Bibliographic Entry Result
(w/surrounding text)
Petawatt, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory. December 1996. "The extraordinarily powerful laser is called the Petawatt because the prefix 'peta' refers to a quadrillion, or 1015. The laser reached a peak of 1.25 petawatts of peak power, about 25% more powerful than expected and more than ten times the peak power of Lawrence Livermore's Nova laser, the world's largest. The historic shots shattered the existing record for laser power (125 trillion watts) by more than a factor of 10, set by Livermore researchers using a Petawatt prototype during the summer of 1995….
Although the shots exceeded by more than 1,200 times the entire electrical generating capacity of the US, they lasted less than half a picosecond (a trillionth, or 10-12, of a second). In that exceedingly fleeting moment, nearly 10,000 times shorter than the typical Nova laser shot, only enough energy (about 600 joules) was generated to keep a 100-watt light bulb burning for about 6 seconds."
1.25 PW

Editor's Supplement -- 2001

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