Bringing Star Power to Earth: Harnessing Nuclear Fusion

LLNL Scientist(s)
Derek Mariscal,
Dave Schlossberg
Tom Shefler
Teacher's School
Granada High School


By the time the current generation of high school students reaches age 50, the world’s energy consumption is predicted to increase by 47%.1 Along with exponential growth of population centers, this creates an urgent demand for energy-dense sources; one such source is nuclear fusion, the process that powers stars. This is a mission of the National Ignition Facility (NIF) at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, where burning and near-ignition plasmas were recently achieved for the first time on earth.
The NIF is the world’s largest and most energetic laser system and was built to create extreme states of matter – similar to those found in stellar and planetary interiors. Here scientists, engineers, and technicians work on the grand challenge of recreating the engines of stars on earth by harnessing fusion. Successful demonstrations on the NIF are laying the foundation for a future generation of clean, near-limitless energy using inertial confinement fusion. This presentation will overview the fusion science conducted on the NIF; including experiments, simulations, and the application of machine learning to better understand the physics of these highly complex physical phenomena.
1 Fig. 10 in “International Energy Outlook 2021 Narrative,” U.S. Energy Information Administration, U.S. Department of Energy,



Derek Mariscal received a B. S. in Physics from CSU Stanislaus and a Ph. D. in Engineering Physics from UC San Diego. He is a physicist and part of the Inertial Confinement Fusion (ICF) research team at the National Ignition Facility. He also performs research in short-pulse high-intensity laser-plasma acceleration and is working with the Cognitive Simulation group at LLNL to drastically enhance the rate of learning from laser-driven experiments by combining advanced computational techniques such as Deep Learning with high repetition rate lasers.


Dave Schlossberg received a B. A. in Physics from Swarthmore College, a M. S. and Ph. D. from University of Wisconsin, Madison. He currently researches thermonuclear fusion via laser indirect drive inertial confinement at LLNL’s National Ignition Facility, with expertise in nuclear processes and diagnostics. He is part of the team that recently achieved the first burning plasma in a laboratory. Previously he worked on NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope, General Atomics’ DIII-D Tokamak, and the Pegasus Toroidal Experiment.


Tom Shefler received a B. S. degree in Physics and Applied Mathematics from Western Michigan University and a M. A. in Astronomy and Astrophysics from the UC Berkeley. While at Berkeley, he researched analyzed and cataloged Hubble Space Telescope images of galaxies, observational research involved in the detection and study of extrasolar planets, and discovered Supernova 1998DT while working with the Katzman Automatic Imaging Telescope team. He currently teaches Physics and Engineering at Granada High School.