Move over, Silicon Valley, and make way for the East Bay's most illustrious brainchild. CNN news is reporting a dramatic discovery by scientists associated with UC Berkeley at its world renowned research facility in Livermore.
The event was over in a fraction of a scintilla of a blink of an eye and released a burst of energy that's not particularly impressive by most standards.
But it's being hailed as a milestone in a decades-long quest to harness the power of nuclear fusion, the same process that powers the sun. For the first time, scientists at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California say they produced more energy from a reaction in their fuel source than they put into the fuel, said Omar Hurricane, the physicist who led the experiment.
"You're not going to power a car with it. You're not going to power a house with it," Hurricane told CNN. "It'll be a while before we address all the needed scientific challenges and then the engineering challenges to make it more practical, but we're excited. It's a great step forward scientifically."
There is a bit of fine print. The implosion of a tiny pellet holding two hydrogen isotopes did produce more energy than it took to cause it -- about 17,000 joules, which Hurricane compared to the force of a downhill skier doing about 36 mph. However, the pellet received only about 1% of the total energy expended in the experiments, he said.
But the reaction also produced a heating effect that appeared to boost the energy output -- a process dubbed "bootstrapping" by Hurricane's team at Livermore's laser fusion research center, the National Ignition Facility. And that may point scientists toward their ultimate goal of a controlled, sustainable fusion reaction that would provide abundant, safe power, he said.
"We've assembled that stick of dynamite and we've gotten the fuse to light," he said. "If we can get that fuse to burn all the way to the dynamite, it's going to pack a wallop."
The findings were published Wednesday in the scientific journal Nature. While humans have been producing uncontrolled fusion reactions since the 1950's through hydrogen bombs, harnessing nuclear fusion in a controlled setting has eluded scientists for decades.
Lawrence Livermore Laboratory has been setting the pace for research into nuclear power for decades. Watch the attached video for more updates on this effort.