Scientists at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory have created something potentially revolutionary. Using the world’s largest laser system, they’ve made a world-changing energy breakthrough. Drumroll please . . . a burning plasma!
Wait, a what?
To understand the what, it helps to know the why.
As cities grow and technologies advance, the world needs more energy. More energy means more fuel.
Most power plants burn fossil fuels, such as natural gas. But these fuels don’t come cheap. They also create air pollution. Other power plants use nuclear fission, splitting atoms to create energy. But this also requires expensive fuel, and it leaves behind dangerous radioactive waste.
Now scientists say a new source of energy is coming: nuclear fusion.
In nuclear fusion, atoms don’t split apart. They fuse together. If power plants could wield fusion, they could produce less pollution and waste. Fusion doesn’t require hard-to-find fuels. Instead, it uses hydrogen, one of the most common elements on Earth. And it gets better: Fusion can produce four times more energy than fission.
But to create fusion, you need one more thing: plasma.
You’re probably familiar with three states of matter: solids, liquids, and gases. But some elements can become so hot they turn from gas to plasma.
When hydrogen becomes plasma, nuclear fusion can happen. But plasma doesn’t burn by itself. You need heat to keep it going. There’s the dilemma. To keep plasma hot enough for nuclear fusion, you end up using more energy than you create. It’s also difficult to safely contain that much heat in a power plant.
You might not know it, but you see burning plasma every day. Just look up! The Sun is a giant, burning ball of plasma—and so is every other star. Countless fusion reactions keep the Sun burning, providing light and warmth to our planet and making life possible.
God invented this self-sustaining energy source at the beginning of time, and science has only scratched the surface of understanding it. The California scientists created a plasma that burns on its own. After their first laser blast, they didn’t need more heat to keep it burning. Nuclear fusion heated the plasma, allowing even more fusion to happen. This discovery could make it possible for fusion to produce more energy than it uses. That’s what makes “burning plasma” the critical key.
How soon will nuclear fusion arrive in a power outlet near you? It could take decades for scientists to turn this process into practical energy. But burning plasma is a major step toward fusion-based power.
Why? The more we learn about nuclear energy, the more we marvel at God’s brilliant creation. We can also use what we learn to help others and move the progress of God’s kingdom on Earth forward.