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Orion laser facility

Orion is one of the most powerful lasers and largest laser facilities in the UK.

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A unique national asset

We have unique nuclear expertise. We have a clear purpose and goals that set our direction.

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World-class expertise

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Plasma physics

The study of plasma physics is one of the key elements of our ability to maintain and underwrite warheads for the UK's strategic deterrent.

High-power lasers – such as the state-of-the-art Orion laser – and pulsed power facilities allow our scientists to work on pressures and densities found nowhere else on Earth, helping to determine the behaviour and characteristics of materials under extreme conditions - such that occur at the heart of a nuclear detonation. We are able to replicate and study, in the laboratory, these physical conditions - albeit on a small scale and over a tiny fraction of a second.

Our plasma physics research covers a wide range of activities, from specialised diagnostics for high energy-density experiments to designing and performing similar experiments in facilities around the world. Accurate modelling and analysis of the large volumes of data obtained from these experiments is also crucial to our continued development and knowledge of nuclear science.

There is significant overlap with many areas of academic interest such as astrophysics, nuclear and particle physics, materials science and inertial fusion energy.  We have formed extensive links with researchers at universities and other UK, US and French laboratories such as the National Nuclear Laboratory, Los Alamos National Laboratory, Sandia National Laboratory, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory and the CEA sponsoring secondments for our scientists to work abroad on long-term collaborative projects. 

Work to support this programme falls into four broad categories:

  • Plasma physics experiments
  • Theory and simulation
  • Laser science and operations
  • Target fabrication and development

Some of the current research topics covering plasma physics experiments include:

  • Short-pulse, high-intensity laser-matter interactions
  • Material opacity at conditions up to several times solid density
  • Spall and strength of compressed and shocked materials
  • Hydrodynamic instabilities
  • Hohlraum physics
  • Equation-of-state studies in strongly-coupled plasmas
  • Laser-generated particle beams and their applications
  • Nuclear cross-sections and effects in high energy-density plasmas
  • Inertial fusion energy techniques and applications

As part of our plasma physics work, we promote external interactions and work closely with many UK universities supporting students. We also help to establish centres of excellence within the universities. We also help to establish centres of excellence within the universities. These include the CIFS (Centre for Inertial Fusion Studies at Imperial College London), OxCHEDS (Oxford Centre for High Energy Density Science at the University of Oxford), CCPP (Centre for Computational Plasma Physics at the University of Warwick) and York Fusion CDT at University of York.