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Using a one-of-a-kind laser system at Los Alamos National Laboratory, scientists have created the largest neutron beam ever made by a short-pulse laser, breaking a world record. Neutron beams are usually made with particle accelerators or nuclear reactors and are commonly used in a wide variety of scientific research, particularly in advanced materials science.

Using the TRIDENT laser, a unique and powerful 200 trillion-watt short-pulse laser, scientists from Los Alamos, the Technical University of Darmstadt, Germany, and Sandia National Laboratories focus high-intensity light on an ultra-thin plastic sheet infused with an isotope of hydrogen called deuterium.

The laser light — 200 quintillion watts per square centimeter, equivalent to focusing all of the light coming from the sun to the earth (120,000 terawatts) onto the tip of a pencil — interacts with the plastic sheet, creating a plasma, an electrically charged gas.  A quintillion is a one with 18 zeros after it.

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