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Deck-Plate Science: A Day in the Life at Omega

Photonics Spectra
Mar 2001
A laser fusion research lab focuses militarylike discipline and academic freedom on a single target: science.

Daniel S. Burgess, News Editor

Three days a week, the staff at the University of Rochester's Laboratory for Laser Energetics in Rochester, N.Y., punches in at 4 a.m. to prepare the Omega laser for its three test shots. At 8 a.m., the operators from the instrument's five control stations meet with that day's presiding shot director for a prewatch briefing, a concept borrowed from the Navy. The meeting bears the elements of a ritual, as each operator reports the status of her or his area and any problems that were found in the test shots:
  • Shot director: Alignment, are we up to spec?
  • Alignment operator: Check.
Funded jointly by the university, the US government, the state of New York and private industry, the laboratory was established in 1970 with a mandate to probe what happens when intense optical radiation and matter interact. The first incarnation of the Omega laser came online in 1980 and uniformly bathed its targets in the infrared light of 24 solid-state lasers. Since then, the system has seen continuous improvement...

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