Dense Plasmas in the Laboratory

Dense plasmas are created in inertial confinement fusion experiments, which attempt to initiate nuclear fusion reactions by heating and compressing a fuel target of deuterium and tritium. To initiate fusion, the deuterium and tritium fuel must be heated to over 50 million degrees and held together long enough for the reactions to take place.


Typical trajectory of fuel (DT gas) and ablator (CH) elements in the temperature-density plane from initial to final conditions.

Different approaches for ICF are being explored:

Laser Direct Drive

In a direct-drive target, powerful laser beams strike directly on the fuel capsule.


Laser Indirect Drive

In an indirect-drive target, powerful lasers strike the inner surface of a hollow chamber (the “hohlraum”) that surrounds the fuel capsule, exciting X-rays that transfer energy to the fuel capsule


Laser-driven Fast Ignition

In laser-driven fast ignition the target is compressed to high density with a low implosion velocity and then ignited by a short, high-energy pulse of electrons or ions induced by a very short (a few picoseconds) high-power laser pulse.


Pulsed-Power Drive

Pulsed-power-driven inertial fusion utilizes large electric current from a pulsed-power accelerator to generate sufficiently high magnetic field pressures to compress and heat magnetized, pre-ionized fusion fuel contained in a cylindrical target to ignition conditions. One promising conceptual approach along these lines is the Magnetized Linear Inertial Fusion (MagLIF) experiment on the Z-machine at Sandia National Laboratories, which involves magnetic implosion of magnetized, laser-preheated fusion fuel on a fast (~100ns) time-scale.



  • An assessment of the progress of inertial confinement fusion (The National Academy Press, 2013); accessible here.
  • S. Atzeni and J. Meyer-ter-Vehn, The Physics of Inertial Fusion : BeamPlasma Interaction, Hydrodynamics, Hot Dense Matter (Oxford University Press, 2004).
  • Highlights on MagLif: