National Nuclear Security Administration

Ultraviolet: Other wavelengths pale in comparison

October 18, 2018

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How NNSA uses ultraviolet light to complete its missions.
A potassium dihydrogen phosphate crystal grown at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory.
A potassium dihydrogen phosphate crystal grown at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory.

Ultraviolet light is the reason we wear sunscreen and sunglasses, as overexposure is damaging to living tissue. UV radiation is also what makes black-light posters glow. But aside from killer tans and groovy wall art, ultraviolet light also has useful scientific applications.

The National Ignition Facility (NIF) at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory is a truly impressive sight. Taking up three football fields worth of land, it uses a complex system of nearly 40,000 optics (lenses, mirrors, polarizers, etc.) to direct its 192 giant laser beams at a target the size of a pencil eraser.

NIF requires some 480 optics produced from large single crystals of potassium dihydrogen phosphate. The resulting structures are used to influence lasers so they pass back and forth through amplifiers, increasing power. They are also used to convert laser beams from infrared to ultraviolet, which results in a more favorable interaction with the fusion target.

Microchips created with extreme ultraviolet lithography at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory.
Microchips created with extreme ultraviolet lithography at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory.

In addition to being home to the largest, most energetic laser in the world, Livermore is also known for its excellence in supercomputing. The lab has joined forces with a leading provider of computer chip manufacturing equipment to improve the performance of the light source for extreme ultraviolet (EUV) lithography, a process used to make microchips for the semiconductor industry.

This cooperative research and development agreement will ultimately bring lab expertise in lasers and plasma physics plus its high-performance computing capabilities to the public through consumer goods.

This next-generation EUV technology will enable chipmakers to increase the number of transistors and significantly improve the performance of future supercomputers and electronics.

Research at NNSA spans the entire electromagnetic spectrum – take a look at findings at other frequencies and how they help further the missions of the Nuclear Security Enterprise.