Last Tuesday was the tenth anniversary of NIF! When the laser was built, the plan was to have fusion within five years, and that most certainly did not happen. But according to Einstein, if we knew what we were doing, it wouldn’t be called ‘research’. Happy anniversary NIF!
I went to the anniversary talk where I was able to see several congresspeople, Bill Goldstein who runs the lab, Mark Herrmann the head of NIF, and many others. I said hello to Bill Foster who’s the representative of the 11th district of Illinois but he didn’t respond. Rude!The congresspeople who spoke referred to themselves as the ‘geek caucus’ and I can’t tell how much of that was real and how much of that was pandering to the audience. Interestingly, they seemed very concerned about recruitment. Goldstein, Herrmann, and one of the congresspeople all mentioned that NIF needed new, younger workers, and many of those people are going to Silicon Valley. For scientists, this is one of the best places to work because of the wonderful labs. But since the focus is clearly not on the code quality but on the science, not many programmers are all that interested.
On Wednesday, there was a talk by the head of the National Nuclear Security Administration, Lisa E. Gordon-Hagerty! It was invitation only and I’m an intern, so I wasn’t given a ticket. However, the head of each division got one extra ticket to give out to an intern, and for whatever reason Mikhail decided to give the ticket to me! He said it was important because I was still ‘starting my career’ and it was important that I attend. He also mentioned that the NNSA Secretary was a woman and it would be neat if I could hear her story. Like I said, Mikhail is an awesome guy. Gordon-Hagerty talked about the labs, how they were doing, and what they would be doing in the future. The funding is pretty good because it’s a military facility, but we we’re still behind. Over 50% of the US’s nukes are over 40 years old and over a third are from the Manhattan project, and at the moment we’re not building any big ones. Instead, we’re ensuring that old nukes don’t degrade. She also spoke a bit about how the money was being allocated in the DoE. Unsurprisingly, almost nothing is being allocated towards climate change issues. Grrr……
Then I got to tour the High Explosives Applications Facility! It was pretty cool. Most explosives facilities, like Site 300, have the production and testing in different locations. That way if there’s an accident during testing, the people working on production aren’t harmed, and no chain reactions are set off. At HEAF however, they do all in one building! It’s more efficient that way, and they use different methods to keep things safe. Sometimes there’s something that is do dangerous to be blown up in HEAF , and that’s when they send the explosives to Site 300 for testing.
The explosives that they design are made to be very precise. Unlike most explosives, they won’t go off in a fire or a car crash. They are set off only under extreme heat or shock conditions, which are not generally reached unintentionally. By controlling the heat and the shock, you can control the explosion to an extreme degree of precision. In addition, they test homemade explosives to see if they are real threats. If they are, then they program the airport scanners to detect them. They also 3D print little plastic dog bones filled with the explosive to give to bomb sniffing dogs! There’s not enough explosive to actually combust, so the dog is safe.
May you be ever victorious in your future endeavors!