Building the world's most powerful laser
Ed Moses talks of the "grand challenge" that has consumed him for the past five years, comparing it to trying to hit the strike zone with a baseball from 350 miles (563 kilometers) away or tossing a dime into a parking meter from 40 miles (64 kilometers) away.
"That's the precision we have to have," says Moses, the director of a high-energy physics adventure to produce the world's most powerful laser -- one that scientists hope will create in a laboratory the type of energy found at the center of the sun.
In a building the size of a football stadium, engineers have assembled the framework for a network of 192 laser beams, each traveling 1,000 feet (305 meters) to converge simultaneously on a target the size of a pencil eraser.
The trip will take one-thousandth of a second during which the light's energy is amplified many billions of times to create a brief laser pulse 1,000 times the electric generating power of the United States.
The goal is to create unimaginable heat -- 180 million degrees Fahrenheit (82 million Celsius) -- and intense pressure from all directions on a BB-size hydrogen fuel pellet, compressing it to one-thirtieth of its size.
The result, the scientists hope, will be a fusing of atoms so that more energy is released than is generated by the laser beams, something scientists call fusion ignition. It is what happens when a hydrogen bomb explodes.
The government is investing $3.5 billion, and possibly several billion dollars more, in NIF for another reason: national security.