Plasma physicist describes what the future holds regarding this week’s breakthrough in nuclear fusion

A group of smiling people, some standing and others seated, in front of a screen displaying the word "ignition" in a conference room.

Tammy Ma is a plasma physicist for the National Ignition Facility (NIF), the largest and most energetic laser in the world. This past week, Tammy Ma was informed that an experiment at the facility had just a massive breakthrough in nuclear fusion. Scientists have been trying to achieve this breakthrough for decades.

At 1:03 AM on December 5th, the NIF shot 192 laser beams at a tiny target filled with fuel and achieved “fusion ignition” in a controlled setting for the first time on Earth. This means that they’d been able to generate more energy through nuclear fusion than the laser energy used to kick off the reaction. By producing fusion reactions in the lab, Ma and her colleagues essentially recreate the way stars generate energy, which in turn could lead to powering our world with clean and hypothetically limitless energy.