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A new way to crush tiny amounts of matter in the hope of one day exploiting nuclear fusion for energy generation has been demonstrated by Matthew Gomez and colleagues at the Sandia National Laboratories in the US. The researchers used an enormous magnetic field produced by the lab's Z Pulsed Power Facility (dubbed the"Z-machine"), together with a secondary field and a very brief laser pulse to implode a tube of deuterium fuel. This raised the fuel's temperature to some 35 million degrees and produced lots of neutrons – a signature of fusion.

The technique is a new twist on inertial confinement, which uses extremely powerful laser beams to squeeze tiny capsules containing the hydrogen isotopes deuterium and tritium. This creates 100-million-degree "hotspots" in which the deuterium and tritium nuclei fuse, giving off large amounts of energy. This is the approach used by researchers at the $3.5bn National Ignition Facility (NIF) in the US, who have so far failed to achieve ignition. This is the point at which heat from fusion reactions causes more nuclei to fuse and more energy is given off by the target than is put in by the lasers.

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