Skip Navigation


Nuclear fusion, the process that powers the sun, is the ultimate source of energy for all life on Earth. The dream is to do the same down here, on Earth, in a controlled manner.One of the two most investigated and promising approaches, Inertial Fusion Energy (IFE), uses powerful lasers, which are fundamental tools in IFE research, to heat a small target containing fusible material.

The U.S. Department of Energy unveiled a $42 million program establishing three new hubs to advance foundational IFE science and technology. Texas A&M’s Institute for Quantum Science and Engineering (IQSE) is a major player in one of the multi-million-dollar hubs, known as RISE, which will be led by Colorado State University and dedicated to advancing laser-driven fusion energy.

“The RISE hub will become a center of excellence for IFE science and technology to support the DOE’s mission in IFE,” said Dr. Marlan Scully, a University Distinguished Professor and IQSE director.

“The IQSE was built by the visionary Chancellor’s Research Initiative program started by [Texas A&M University System] Chancellor John Sharp,” said Dr. Alexei Sokolov, a professor in the Department of Physics and Astronomy and IQSE associate director. “We look forward to bringing the IQSE expertise in exotic laser physics to bear on the laser-fusion promise.”

Laser Fusion

Laser fusion energy (LFE) offers the potential to generate electrical power by the same process that our Sun produces energy. Recent experiments at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL) have realized the long-sought goal of scientific breakeven – the generation of more energy from a laser-irradiated, deuterium-tritium (DT) target than that delivered to the target by the laser. This breakthrough in LFE suggests that the commercial-generation of electrical power is feasible but the most-challenging goal – realizing an economically-viable power plant – lies ahead.

J. Gary Eden has served as a member of the faculty of the University of Illinois (Urbana) for 43 years. His current research focuses on laser fusion energy (LFE), ultrafast optical physics such as the control of atomic coherences, a new generation of optical amplifiers, the disinfection of drinking water in the developing world, and much more. Listen to Dr. Eden outline the challenges and possibilities of laser fusion energy:

Extreme Conditions

Optical nonlinearity in stochastic optics can be viewed as a map whereby the statistics of the driver field is transformed into the statistics of the nonlinear output. Our study shows that, despite an enormous variety of output statistics found in nonlinear optics, all these statistics converge, in their extreme-value limit, to one of a few universal extreme-value distributions. Specifically, in the class of polynomial nonlinearities, such as those found in self-focusing, self-phase modulation, weak-field harmonic generation, and multiphoton ionization, the statistics of the nonlinear-optical output converges, in the extreme-value limit, to the exponentially tailed, Gumbel distribution. Exponentially growing nonlinear signals, on the other hand, such as those induced by parametric instabilities and stimulated scattering, are shown to reach their extreme-value limits in the class of the Fréchet statistics, giving rise to extreme-value distributions with heavy, manifestly nonexponential tails, thus favoring extreme-event outcomes and rogue-wave buildup. Instead of dealing with a question as to how to completely avoid self-focusing, stochastic analysis has to deal with a question of how to effectively manage the self-focusing probability over a finite sample of laser shots.

Aleksei Zheltikov is a professor at Texas A&M University. A portion of his research is focused on ultrafast nonlinear optics and how we can integrate this knowledge into laser fusion efforts. Listen to Dr. Zheltikov explain the extreme conditions of high power lasers:


Fusion energy would be a revolutionary achievement. The combination of abundant fuel, inherent safety, and reduced emissions will allow sustainable energy generation for the entire planet. Great progress has been made toward this goal. In 2022 – 2024, the National Ignition Facility conducted multiple “shots” that produced more energy than incident on the fuel. But we want a net gain of energy. To accomplish this, there are many challenges for our scientists and engineers to solve.

More efficient laser designs are required. Excimer lasers can meet these requirements and increasingly large lasers are being designed and built. The manipulation of this powerful radiation is another challenge. The extreme energies from the excimer lasers restrict what materials can be used for the optics of the power plant. After the fusion reaction has taken place, we need to consider materials science again; what material can survive a flux of high energy neutrons.

IQSE, as a member of the RISE Hub, is in a position to make a significant contribution to development of fusion energy.