SF Gate – Fusion tests set at new Livermore facility}

Outside a concrete slab of a building 10 stories high that holds the most powerful array of lasers and high-precision optics ever assembled, the scientists, engineers and workers who created the massive structure at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory celebrated its dedication Friday.

The celebration in a heavily guarded section of the Lawrence Livermore lab marked the fact that research and tests are about to start at the new $3.5 billion National Ignition Facility, or NIF. It will be an unprecedented, years-long physics experiment, and the outcome is by no means certain.

It’s purpose is to focus the immense energy in an array of 120 laser beams onto a tiny glass target the size of a BB shot, which is filled with hydrogen. This is all done under immensely high pressure to make the target heat like the fiery interior of a star at a 180 million degrees Fahrenheit.

At that instant – theory says but experiments have yet to achieve – the hydrogen isotope atoms inside the target would fuse to become helium and release more energy in a trillionth of a second than it took to produce the blast in the first place.

To scientists that outcome is called “ignition,” a self-sustaining split-second of thermonuclear fusion that would – if successful – serve three vital functions…

One of the things that depresses me about living in Seattle is that it’s sort of Silicon-Valley-lite, smaller, newer, more inexorably fused with the Microsoft mindset, but generally looks the same at a distance, but with cheaper property prices. Except when you’re here, what you quickly notice is that there’s a whole layer missing: no smart people.

There are lots of VCs, millionaires, programmers, CEOs, liberals, Toyota Prii, and a lesser sprinkling of BMWs, Mercedes, Aston Martins, Bentleys and the car from Mad Max (in descending order into the single digits). But it’s all based around Microsoft (The Death Star, looming above us, huge and still, in Redmond), Amazon, Starbucks, Real Networks and Costco. Most of the people in those cars are locals who happened to get jobs at the right time at Microsoft, others moved here when the companies became established, but what you don’t have is a whole massive work force of people who were already here because of Lockheed Martin, Loral, Nasa, the Stanford Research Institute, or Lawrence Libermore Labs.

So, you know, while California slowly gets absorbed into the dying star of the California public sector as it approaches supernova, remember: you still have smart people, and, because Washingtonians love pretending their small state is as important as California and spend to match that opinion of self-worth, the deficit per head in Washington is about 10 bucks more.

(Or $60, but we all know how my maths turn out: $8bil budget shortfall for Wa, $42bil in California, for populations of and 6.5m 36.7m respectively, and we leave it for Brett McS to figure out.)