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Geoscience Researchers Awarded Experimental Time on World’s Most Powerful Laser


Professor Tom Duffy’s research group has been awarded experimental time on Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory’s (LLNL) National Ignition Facility (NIF) to explore the nature of minerals deep in the interior of rocky extrasolar planets. NIF is the world’s largest and most energetic laser. Duffy’s team, which includes Professor June Wicks of Johns Hopkins University and Drs. Martin Gorman and Raymond Smith of LLNL, competed successfully for three days of beamtime as part of the Discovery Science Program at NIF. Their project will examine the mineral enstatite, MgSiO3, to unprecedented pressures reaching up to 10 million atmospheres, comparable to pressures at the core-mantle boundary of a rocky Earth-like planet ten times the mass of our Earth. Using NIF’s 192 independently controlled laser beams, the team will dynamically compress the sample for about thirty billionths of a second and probe its structure with a powerful X-ray beam while under compression. The study will enable the researchers to determine the atomic arrangements under extreme pressure, key information for developing mineralogical models of extrasolar planets. An understanding of planetary mineralogy is a crucial step toward developing reliable models of the interior structure and evolution of extrasolar planets in our galaxy. This project is an outgrowth of the team’s earlier work at NIF on compression of diamond and iron to ultrahigh pressures.


At the NIF laser facility (left), Princeton researchers aim to use the world’s most powerful laser to recreate the conditions deep inside large, rocky extrasolar planets (right). Images courtesy of Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory.

NIF laser facility (left) and Laser (right)