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Schumer: With International Competition From Countries Like Russia And China, Laser Lab Investment Is Vital To Ensure U.S. Will Be First Nation To Achieve Fusion Ignition

Schumer Says Laser Lab Is The Backbone Of Rochester’s Photonics Industry; Senator Has Long Fought To Keep Job-Creating Laser Lab At The Cutting Edge Of High Tech Energy, Photonics Research

Schumer To Feds: Double Down on Laser Lab for U.S. Energy Future and To Spur Rochester Photonics and Optics Jobs

U.S. Senator Charles E. Schumer and U.S. Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz recently toured the Laboratory for Laser Energetics (LLE) at the University of Rochester. Schumer, who last year helped secure $68 million in funding from the 2016 budget for the LLE, advocated for federal investment in the upcoming Fiscal Year 2017 and Fiscal Year 2018 federal budgets to help grow the laser lab, which is a key driver of Rochester’s optics and photonics prowess and in the nation’s development of new clean energy sources. Schumer said this visit symbolizes a major milestone for the University and will show their research to the nation’s top energy scientist.

“I brought Secretary Moniz here today so he could witness firsthand the University of Rochester’s 300-employee world-class laser lab in action and see all the reasons why I’m pushing to see it grow and expand. The LLE is at the cutting edge of research and discover; it is a major economic driver and the backbone of Rochester’s photonics industry. It employs 300 workers, attracts 400 visiting scientists each year, and is a source of spin-off photonics companies,” said U.S. Senator Charles E. Schumer.

Schumer continued, “I’m pushing for increased federal funding so the lab can double down on their energy discovery and national security work in partnership with our national labs especially with competition from counties like China and Russia working to beat the U.S. to these fusion energy discoveries. It’s a win-win: the more we can put the Laser Lab to work for our nation’s energy and national security research needs, the more the Laser Lab can continue to grow jobs and spin-off companies in Rochester.”

Since its inception in 1970, the LLE at the University of Rochester has continued to shine as one of the nation’s leading institutions in advanced physics, photonics and optics. Schumer said the University of Rochester’s programs and research have aimed to strengthen national security, help discover new and efficient sources of energy as well as train the next generation scientific workforce. Schumer brought Secretary Moniz to Rochester so the nation’s top energy scientist could see firsthand the Laboratory for Laser Energetics’ OMEGA Laser Facility in action, and understand why Senator Schumer is pushing to see it grow.

Specifically, Schumer is pushing to further develop the OMEGA facility through an expanded partnership with the Department of Energy, three national laboratories and several other leading academic institutions across the country. That’s why Schumer is pushing DOE, is it prepares its Fiscal Year (FY) 2018 President’s budget request, to include $75 million for the LLE’s OMEGA facility. Schumer is also pushing to ensure the facility receives the $68 million it needs to continue firing on all cylinders in the FY 2017 bill when Congress returns to Washington in December. Schumer said this funding – particularly the requested increase for 2018 – would enable the LLE to begin an expanded partnership with three national labs across the U.S. to advance the three most promising approaches to achieving fusion ignition and enhancing national security.

The three most widely theorized ways to viably achieve fusion are by using direct drive, indirect drive or pulsed power. While the LLE is the world leader in direct drive, Schumer said the LLE is incredibly unique, as it is also the only facility in the U.S. that can support experiments to test the other two approaches. Other labs do not have the world-class facilities needed to test all three techniques. By partnering with these other three other national labs (Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, Los Alamos National Labs and Sandia National Laboratories), the LLE will support collaboration between these facilities and, therefore, be in an excellent position to help accelerate the nation’s ability to test and advance all three laser capabilities, stay ahead of international competition and ultimately achieve fusion ignition.

Schumer said that, in order to stay ahead of international competition and avoid technological surprise by another country such as Russia or China, this fusion project is key to ensure that the U.S. will be the first nation to demonstrate fusion ignition and high yield in the laboratory. Schumer said the U.S. needs to continue investing to test which of these three approaches may likely be the answer, and the LLE at the University of Rochester is America’s best bet.

LLE is home to the OMEGA laser, which is the second most powerful ultraviolet fusion laser in the world, and the OMEGA EP (Extended Performance) laser, a high-intensity, high-energy short-pulse laser, and serves as the principal laser research facility for three national laboratories. Specifically, the LLE using the OMEGA laser facility runs experiments in hopes of achieving “inertial confinement fusion” in the lab. The LLE’s primary goal is to advance nuclear fusion research to help safeguard our nation’s nuclear stockpile and also to help develop new clean energy sources. In inertial confinement fusion, ultra-high power lasers emitting hundreds of terawatts of power are “shot” to irradiate a “target” containing heavy hydrogen atom isotopes. The laser energy compresses and heats the hydrogen to causing it to undergo fusion. The aim is to produce more energy than is used to power the laser, allowing inertial confinement fusion to be used to produce electric power.

The same inertial confinement fusion technology is used to help safeguard our nuclear weapon stockpile. For example, by simulating the extreme temperatures and pressure of a thermonuclear reaction, inertial confinement fusion can be used to help predict how nuclear warheads in the nation's stockpile degrade over time. Because of this Schumer said the OMEGA facility is critical to national security. Moreover, the LLE is the most cost-effective facility in the science-based nuclear stockpile stewardship program – performing 80 percent of all the target shots used in the Nuclear Security Administration’s high energy density physics programs. The LLE has also supported basic research on programs ranging from laboratory astrophysics to the behavior of matter under ultra-high dynamic stress.

Not only does the LLE help keep the United States at the forefront of this cutting-edge science and promote national security, Schumer said it also helps support Rochester’s photonics industry. The LLE is a major economic driver because it employs 300 workers and is a source of spin-off photonics companies. Thanks to Rochester companies like Kodak and Xerox, Rochester now boasts over 100 optics, photonics, and imaging (OPI) companies employing over 17,000 workers. Since its founding in 1970, the LLE has been a major part of this photonics ecosystem and has spun off several Rochester companies, including QED Technologies, Sydor Optics, and Lucid, Inc. These are just a few of the local companies created as a result of LLE’s technology and research. In fact, this is why Senator Schumer helped successfully lead the charge with the Department of Defense (DOD) last year for Rochester/New York State to win the DOD’s $110 million Advanced Institute of Manufacturing (AIM) Photonics competition.

Ultimately, Schumer said preserving $68 million for the LLE in the FY 2017 budget as well as securing an increase in funding to $75 million in FY 2018 will help the photonics industry in Rochester grow and prosper, improve our nation’s security and help these top-notch scientists discover new and efficient sources of energy through fusion research.

“We are deeply honored to host Secretary Moniz thanks to the invitation and leadership of Senator Schumer,” said University of Rochester President and CEO Joel Seligman. “The Laboratory for Laser Energetics is vital component to our national and economic security, and puts Rochester at the forefront of efforts to explore nuclear fusion as a source of clean energy for the future. Our partnership with the Department of Energy dates over four decades and has been enormously productive, and we look forward to strengthening that relationship as a result of today’s visit.”

Schumer was joined by U.S. Department of Energy Secretary Earnest Moniz, University of Rochester President Joel Seligman, Professor Robert L. McCrory, Chief Executive Officer and Director of the Laboratory for Laser Energetics, and LLE employees.

At Schumer’s request, Secretary Moniz also visited Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT) during his visit in Rochester for a private tour of RIT’s facilities engaged in energy-related research. ‎

A copy of Schumer’s letter to the Department of Energy appears below:

Dear Secretary Moniz:

I appreciate your support for the OMEGA Laser Facility at the University of Rochester’s Laboratory for Laser Energetics (LLE) as you prepare a Fiscal Year (FY) 2018 President’s budget request and submit recommendations to a Presidential transition team. In particular, I ask that you include $75 million in the FY 2018 President’s budget request for the OMEGA facility, which is funded under the Department of Energy (DOE)/National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) Weapons Activities account. This level of funding is consistent with a five-year Cooperative Agreement between NNSA and the LLE and allows the lab to meet scientific milestones in NNSA’s 10-year strategic plan for inertial confinement fusion (ICF) in support of stockpile stewardship.

The LLE’s OMEGA laser facility is a vital contributor to national security and an invaluable source of scientific education and leadership. The OMEGA lasers are the largest and most capable found at any academic institution in both the United States and worldwide. The LLE is recognized nationally and internationally for its critical contributions to the DOE’s science-based stewardship programs in partnership with three national security laboratories (Los Alamos, Sandia and Livermore). The LLE is the most cost-effective facility in the science-based stockpile stewardship program – performing 80 percent of all the target shots used in the national ICF and high energy density physics programs with only 13 percent of NNSA’s ICF budget.

As the NNSA’s largest university-based program, it is also the only major facility that trains graduate students from both the University of Rochester and other leading institutions such as MIT, University of Michigan, Princeton and the University of California, and serves as a pipeline to educate and train future talent that is critically important to our national and economic security. The LLE hosts more than 400 scientists from around the world each year to carry out fundamental research, training and education. Through its groundbreaking research, the LLE provides a strong stimulus to the regional economy as a source of new start-up companies and a driver of New York’s high-technology sector.

The $75 million in FY 2018 will provide the necessary resources to support the LLE’s research and academic programs to help maintain the nation’s stockpile and continue to train the future workforce. In particular, this level of funding allows the LLE to support facility operations and experiments on OMEGA to make progress on the three most viable approaches to fusion and support the research programs of the three NNSA labs. Maintaining U.S. leadership in this field of science is critical to avoid technological surprise as other countries invest in similar capabilities. The LLE would also be able to provide the needed scientific and technical support for the 400 users from the DOE national labs and universities to conduct more than 2,100 experiments in cutting-edge research. Last, this level of funding also will accelerate development and deployment of state-of-the-art diagnostics to improve measurements and collect better data on the behavior of matter under extreme conditions. Better diagnostics will fully leverage the capabilities of existing facilities.

Thank you for your consideration in support of this national asset.


Charles E. Schumer

United State Senator


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