Hit Me With Those Laser Beams!

?Like many kids that grew up in the Star Wars, Star Trek, Star Anything era I spent hours perfecting my technique for producing the perfect laser gun sound: beew beew!

Today, from the 'why-the-heck-isn't-this-front-page-news' file comes this AP story.

Oh nothing major, only that we've just completed the world's most powerful super-laser that can simulate the power of our sun's fusion reactions. Said Edward Moses, project leader at the National Ignition Facility (NIF) at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California:

The lasers are there. The targets are there, and we've proven the optics. But now the proof is in the shooting. We've got to put all this together and shoot the targets. It's the first time anyone has ever done experiments at this scale.

In less than 1/1000th of one second, 192 separate beams converge on a target no bigger than a pencil eraser. And not one of those giant 'pink pet' erasers, either.

In addition to the obvious military uses including monitoring the reliability of our existing nuclear stockpile, the more exciting possibility lies in the area of energy created from fusion reactions:

NIF is expected to ramp up power gradually in a series of experiments over the next year, culminating at a power level in 2010 to achieve what scientists call "fusion ignition": enough heat and pressure to fuse hydrogen atoms in a tiny cylindrical target so that more energy is released than is generated by the laser beams themselves.

Why did I have to search for this story in several different news outlets? Why am I not being bombarded with news about this marvel of American technological ingenuity at the top of every newscast?

Maybe news groups believe that in this economic downturn people don't have the stomach to hear about obscure, expensive scientific advances from which they don't see any immediate benefit. That's nonsense--this is exactly the kind of news that we need to hear. At $3.5 billion over 10+ years this project was a bargain, and we have something tangible to show for it unlike the numerous, nebulous Wall Street bailouts that seem to make taxpayer money disappear faster than a Bernie Madoff investment strategy.

We have the world's most powerful laser, people!

And, as it turns out, the world's second most powerful laser at the University of Rochester. It's about time we brag about it--to ourselves, to the world, and to our young people that so desperately need inspiration to study math and science.

Besides, I have an upcoming meeting with Greedo and I don’t want to be outgunned.

beew beew!