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Concept: Nuclear fusion


Nuclear fusion is regularly created in spherical plasma compressions driven by multi-kilojoule pulses from the world’s largest lasers. Here we demonstrate a dense fusion environment created by irradiating arrays of deuterated nanostructures with joule-level pulses from a compact ultrafast laser. The irradiation of ordered deuterated polyethylene nanowires arrays with femtosecond pulses of relativistic intensity creates ultra-high energy density plasmas in which deuterons (D) are accelerated up to MeV energies, efficiently driving D-D fusion reactions and ultrafast neutron bursts. We measure up to 2 × 106fusion neutrons per joule, an increase of about 500 times with respect to flat solid targets, a record yield for joule-level lasers. Moreover, in accordance with simulation predictions, we observe a rapid increase in neutron yield with laser pulse energy. The results will impact nuclear science and high energy density research and can lead to bright ultrafast quasi-monoenergetic neutron point sources for imaging and materials studies.

Concepts: Energy, Laser, Neutron, Nuclear fusion, Nuclear fission, Plasma, Helium-3, Tritium


Ignition is needed to make fusion energy a viable alternative energy source, but has yet to be achieved. A key step on the way to ignition is to have the energy generated through fusion reactions in an inertially confined fusion plasma exceed the amount of energy deposited into the deuterium-tritium fusion fuel and hotspot during the implosion process, resulting in a fuel gain greater than unity. Here we report the achievement of fusion fuel gains exceeding unity on the US National Ignition Facility using a ‘high-foot’ implosion method, which is a manipulation of the laser pulse shape in a way that reduces instability in the implosion. These experiments show an order-of-magnitude improvement in yield performance over past deuterium-tritium implosion experiments. We also see a significant contribution to the yield from α-particle self-heating and evidence for the ‘bootstrapping’ required to accelerate the deuterium-tritium fusion burn to eventually ‘run away’ and ignite.

Concepts: Laser, Nuclear fusion, Plasma, Nuclear power, Energy development, Alternative energy, Fusion power, Inertial confinement fusion


Weapons-grade uranium and plutonium could be used as nuclear explosives with extreme destructive potential. The problem of their detection, especially in standard cargo containers during transit, has been described as “searching for a needle in a haystack” because of the inherently low rate of spontaneous emission of characteristic penetrating radiation and the ease of its shielding. Currently, the only practical approach for uncovering well-shielded special nuclear materials is by use of active interrogation using an external radiation source. However, the similarity of these materials to shielding and the required radiation doses that may exceed regulatory limits prevent this method from being widely used in practice. We introduce a low-dose active detection technique, referred to as low-energy nuclear reaction imaging, which exploits the physics of interactions of multi-MeV monoenergetic photons and neutrons to simultaneously measure the material’s areal density and effective atomic number, while confirming the presence of fissionable materials by observing the beta-delayed neutron emission. For the first time, we demonstrate identification and imaging of uranium with this novel technique using a simple yet robust source, setting the stage for its wide adoption in security applications.

Concepts: Nuclear physics, Fundamental physics concepts, Atom, Neutron, Nuclear fusion, Uranium, Nuclear fission, Nuclear weapon


Atomic hydrogen exists ubiquitously in graphene materials made by chemical methods. Yet determining the effect of hydrogen on the electrochemical performance of graphene remains a significant challenge. Here we report the experimental observations of high rate capacity in hydrogen-treated 3-dimensional (3D) graphene nanofoam electrodes for lithium ion batteries. Structural and electronic characterization suggests that defect sites and hydrogen play synergistic roles in disrupting sp(2) graphene to facilitate fast lithium transport and reversible surface binding, as evidenced by the fast charge-transfer kinetics and increased capacitive contribution in hydrogen-treated 3D graphene. In concert with experiments, multiscale calculations reveal that defect complexes in graphene are prerequisite for low-temperature hydrogenation, and that the hydrogenation of defective or functionalized sites at strained domain boundaries plays a beneficial role in improving rate capacity by opening gaps to facilitate easier Li penetration. Additional reversible capacity is provided by enhanced lithium binding near hydrogen-terminated edge sites. These findings provide qualitative insights in helping the design of graphene-based materials for high-power electrodes.

Concepts: Atom, Nuclear fusion, Electrolysis, Rechargeable battery, Lithium-ion battery, Lithium, Lithium battery, Helium


Fusion energy research has in the past 40 years focused primarily on the tokamak concept, but recent advances in plasma theory and computational power have led to renewed interest in stellarators. The largest and most sophisticated stellarator in the world, Wendelstein 7-X (W7-X), has just started operation, with the aim to show that the earlier weaknesses of this concept have been addressed successfully, and that the intrinsic advantages of the concept persist, also at plasma parameters approaching those of a future fusion power plant. Here we show the first physics results, obtained before plasma operation: that the carefully tailored topology of nested magnetic surfaces needed for good confinement is realized, and that the measured deviations are smaller than one part in 100,000. This is a significant step forward in stellarator research, since it shows that the complicated and delicate magnetic topology can be created and verified with the required accuracy.

Concepts: Magnetic field, Nuclear fusion, Plasma, Fusion power, Tokamak, Stellarator, Reversed field pinch, Stellarators


Dust grains, formed around asymptotic giant branch (AGB) stars, are accelerated by stellar radiation to drive stellar winds, which supply freshly synthesized nuclides to the Galaxy. Silicate is the dominant dust species in space, but ~40% of oxygen-rich AGB stars are thought to have comparable amounts of aluminum oxide dust. Dust formation and the wind-driving mechanism around these oxygen-rich stars, however, are poorly understood. We report on the spatial distributions of AlO and (29)SiO molecules around an aluminum oxide-rich M-type AGB star, W Hydrae, based on observations obtained with the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array. AlO molecules were only observed within three stellar radii (Rstar), whereas (29)SiO was distributed in the accelerated wind beyond 5 Rstar without significant depletion. This strongly suggests that condensed aluminum oxide dust plays a key role in accelerating the stellar wind and in preventing the efficient formation of silicate dust around W Hydrae.

Concepts: Oxygen, Nuclear fusion, Classical mechanics, Star, Planetary nebula, Stellar evolution, Asymptotic giant branch, Stellar wind


A real-time quantification of Li transport using a nondestructive neutron method to measure the Li distribution upon charge and discharge in a Li-ion cell is reported. By using in situ neutron depth profiling (NDP), we probed the onset of lithiation in a high-capacity Sn anode and visualized the enrichment of Li atoms on the surface followed by their propagation into the bulk. The delithiation process shows the removal of Li near the surface, which leads to a decreased coulombic efficiency, likely because of trapped Li within the intermetallic material. The developed in situ NDP provides exceptional sensitivity in the temporal and spatial measurement of Li transport within the battery material. This diagnostic tool opens up possibilities to understand rates of Li transport and their distribution to guide materials development for efficient storage mechanisms. Our observations provide important mechanistic insights for the design of advanced battery materials.

Concepts: Electric charge, Neutron, Nuclear fusion, Electrolysis, Rechargeable battery, Lithium-ion battery, Lithium, Lithium battery


A FPGA-based real-time digital pulse shape discriminator has been employed to distinguish between neutrons (n) and gammas (γ) in the Neutron Flux Monitor (NFM) for International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor (ITER). The discriminator takes advantages of the Field Programmable Gate Array (FPGA) parallel and pipeline process capabilities to carry out the real-time sifting of neutrons in n/γ mixed radiation fields, and uses the rise time and amplitude inspection techniques simultaneously as the discrimination algorithm to observe good n/γ separation. Some experimental results have been presented which show that this discriminator can realize the anticipated goals of NFM perfectly with its excellent discrimination quality and zero dead time.

Concepts: Fundamental physics concepts, Neutron, Nuclear fusion, Logic gate, Field-programmable gate array, Application-specific integrated circuit, Gate array, VHDL


To stabilize the copper and aluminum ions in simulated sludge, a series of sintering processes were conducted to transform Cu/Al precipitation into spinel structure, CuAl(2)O(4). The results indicated that the large amount of salt content in the simulated sludge would hinder the formation of crystalline CuAl(2)O(4) generated from the incorporation of CuO and Al(2)O(3), even after the sintering process at 1200°C. Opposite to the amorphous CuAl(2)O(4), the crystalline CuAl(2)O(4) can be formed in the sintering process at 700-1100°C for 3h with the desalinating procedure. According to the theory of free energy, the experimental data and references, the best formation temperature of CuAl(2)O(4) was determined at 900-1000°C. As the temperature rose to 1200°C, CuAlO(2) was formed with the dissociation of CuAl(2)O(4). The XPS analysis also showed that the binding energy of copper species in the simulated sludge was switched from 933.8eV for Cu(II) to 932.8eV for Cu(I) with the variation of temperature. In this system, the leaching concentration of copper and aluminum ions from sintered simulated sludge was decreased with ascending temperature and reached the lowest level at 1000°C. Furthermore, the descending tendency coincided with the formation tendency of spinel structure and the diminishing of copper oxide.

Concepts: Chemistry, Atom, Aluminium, Nuclear fusion, Solid, Phase transition, Superconductivity, Sintering


For ram-gill ventilators such as tunas and mackerels (family Scombridae) and billfishes (families Istiophoridae, Xiphiidae), fusions binding the gill lamellae and filaments prevent gill deformation by a fast and continuous ventilatory stream. This study examines the gills from 28 scombrid and seven billfish species in order to determine how factors such as body size, swimming speed, and the degree of dependence upon ram ventilation influence the site of occurrence and type of fusions. In the family Scombridae there is a progressive increase in the reliance on ram ventilation that correlates with the elaboration of gill fusions. This ranges from mackerels (tribe Scombrini), which only utilize ram ventilation at fast cruising speeds and lack gill fusions, to tunas (tribe Thunnini) of the genus Thunnus, which are obligate ram ventilators and have two distinct fusion types (one binding the gill lamellae and a second connecting the gill filaments). The billfishes appear to have independently evolved gill fusions that rival those of tunas in terms of structural complexity. Examination of a wide range of body sizes for some scombrids and billfishes shows that gill fusions begin to develop at lengths as small as 2.0 cm fork length. In addition to securing the spatial configuration of the gill sieve, gill fusions also appear to increase branchial resistance to slow the high-speed current produced by ram ventilation to distribute flow evenly and optimally to the respiratory exchange surfaces. J. Morphol. 2013. © 2012 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.

Concepts: Nuclear fusion, Gill, Typeface, Shark, Tuna, Thunnus, Scombridae, Billfish