In California, at the ultra-powerful fusion laboratory of the National Ignition Facility, 192 laser beams have fired simultaneously, blasting their target -- a circle 2 millimeters in diameter -- with 500 trillion watts. That's 1,000 times more than the entire rest of the United States was using at the time. It is the highest-energy laser shot ever fired in real life, although some fictional lasers have exceeded the record.
With the need for a cheap and abundant alternative to fossils fuels more important than ever before, the field of fusion energy is getting hotter. Really, really hot. 6 million degrees hot. Yes, the National Ignition Facility, the Department of Energy's pet fusion project, has finally fired up its 192 lasers and zapped something, moving us one step closer to the day of clean, nearly free, fusion energy.
Of all the futuristic technologies scientists have sworn would change our lives forever, none is more promising, and more elusive, than fusion power. After decades of tangential research, false starts and downright hoaxes, the two most advanced fusion projects at present are America's National Ignition Facility (NIF) and the multinationally funded International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor (ITER).
Five amazing, clean technologies that will set us free, in this month's energy-focused issue. Also: how to build a better bomb detector, the robotic toys that are raising your children, a human catapult, the world's smallest arcade, and much more.