Los Alamos National Laboratory

Los Alamos National Laboratory

Delivering science and technology to protect our nation and promote world stability

Fusion Energy Sciences

Since 1950s' Project Sherwood to today's Plasma Liner Experiment, we have been exploring the frontiers of experimental plasma physics in support of discovery science and energy and national security missions.


Experimental plasma and high energy density physics

The mission of Fusion Energy Sciences, which is a program of the DOE Office of Science, is to advance the fundamental science of fusion plasma physics and engineering and to develop the predictive capability needed for a sustainable fusion energy source.

Fusion energy research draws upon and challenges Laboratory capabilities in experimental plasma and high energy density physics, which scientifically underpin many of the Lab’s core mission areas.

The grand challenge nature of achieving controlled fusion energy and the intellectual challenges of fundamental plasma research attract top young students and postdoctoral researchers.

Supporting missions in Discovery Science and Burning Plasma Science

Fusion Energy Sciences research supports four primary thrusts:

  • control of burning plasmas
  • fusion predictive modeling
  • fusion nuclear science
  • discovery plasma science

Los Alamos National Laboratory has capabilities and interests aligned with all four thrusts.

Physics Division has many ongoing projects within the discovery plasma science thrust and participates in a major international stellarator collaboration that studies many issues of relevance to the control of burning plasmas.

Fusion energy science projects

In Physics Division, we have four ongoing fusion energy science projects:

  • Magnetized Shock Experiment, which is studying shocks produced by a high-speed field reversed configuration (FRC) plasma quickly stopping and stagnating at a magnetic field barrier
  • Planned studies of plasma-boundary interactions in 3D magnetic field geometries using infrared imaging diagnostics on the new W7-X stellarator, as part of a Los Alamos/Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory/Oak Ridge National Laboratory team collaborating with Germany's Max Planck Institute for Plasma Physics
  • Studies of shock-driven hydrodynamic growth near phase boundaries and material property transitions, on the Trident and OMEGA laser facilities

Rich fusion energy research history

Our historic and diverse role in fusion energy research began in the early 1950s with Project Sherwood and progressed to a truly vibrant research program through the 1980s, including the following:

  • experimental research on theta pinches
  • spheromaks
  • field-reversed configurations
  • reversed field pinches

Since 1990, fusion energy sciences research in Physics Division has focused on a broad range of experimental plasma physics:

  • basic plasma physics and laboratory astrophysics
  • alternate fusion concepts
  • high energy density physics
  • collaborations on major domestic and international fusion experiments
  • plasma diagnostic and fusion technology development

Within the past decade, we also participated in the following:

  • two magneto-inertial fusion projects
  • collaboration on Alcator C-Mod tokamak
  • ion-fast-ignition studies
  • experiment on ion-electrostatic-confinement fusion
  • design studies for International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor

Our largest effort over the past decade was a longstanding collaboration with the Air Force Research Laboratory in Albuquerque, New Mexico, to compress an FRC plasma with a solid metal liner, driven by the Shiva Star capacitor bank, for magnetized target fusion. 

We also built a new experimental facility, the Plasma Liner Experiment (PLX), as part of the High Energy Density Laboratory Physics portfolio to study spherical plasma liner formation using merging supersonic plasma jets, as a possible stand-off approach to magneto-inertial fusion target compression.

PLX has been used for fundamental and astrophysically relevant studies of plasma shocks formed by merging supersonic plasma jets.

Read more about magnetic fusion experiments at Los Alamos