U.S. Senators Charles E. Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand today launched their push to secure $82.4 million in federal funding for the University of Rochester Laboratory for Laser Energetics (LLE). Schumer and Gillibrand urged federal appropriators to include this funding in the Fiscal Year 2020 budget. This boosted funding would be used to provide the necessary resources to support the Lab’s research program and operations and experiments on OMEGA, which is the second most powerful ultraviolet fusion laser in the world.
Schumer and Gillibrand have long fought to ensure the Rochester laser lab has the funding it needs to maintain hundreds of good-paying, local jobs and continue its cutting edge research. Last year in the FY 2019 appropriations process, the senators secured $80 million for the Laser Lab, rejecting the administration’s February 2018 budget proposal to defund the Laser Lab within three years and eliminate hundreds of high-tech jobs in Rochester. In response, Schumer visited the Laser Lab in March 2018 to announce his multi-prong push to reverse this proposed closure plan and instead increase funding for the Lab in FY18 and FY19 to keep the Lab’s 350 skilled Rochester workers on the job. In addition, Gillibrand led the fight in the Senate to ensure necessary funding for the Laser Lab. Following their push, Schumer and Gillibrand succeeded in securing $75 million for the Lab in FY 2018 and then secured $80 million in FY19. Absent this $80 million level of funding, the Lab could have been forced to lay off scientists and engineers, and reduce their capacity and partnerships with national laboratories.
“The U of R Laser Lab, a trailblazer in research and discovery that’s been home to Noble Prize-winning discoveries, plays a fundamental role in U.S. national security by helping to safeguard the nation’s nuclear weapons stockpile and provides 350 good-paying jobs to the Rochester-Finger Lakes’ economy. Boosting funding for this innovative and ground-breaking facility is a no-brainer, and is a true win-win for the Rochester-Finger Lakes and the United States,” said Senator Schumer. “The U.S. is currently the global leader in high-energy laser technologies – this increased funding would not only ensure Rochester can continue as a job-creating center of scientific talent, but allow U of R to keep the nation at the forefront of this research and on the cutting edge of laser innovation.”
“The University of Rochester’s Laser Lab conducts ground-breaking, globally-recognized research and is an asset to our national security,” said Senator Gillibrand. “The Laser Lab attracts scientists from across the country to Rochester, creates hundreds of good-paying jobs, and helps drive economic growth and innovation in Upstate New York. I am proud to lead the fight in the Senate every year to make sure that the Laser Lab has the resources it needs to keep doing its important work for our country, and I urge my colleagues to provide necessary funding for the lab in this year’s appropriations bill.”
Established in 1970, the Laboratory for Laser Energetics (LLE) of the University of Rochester is a unique national resource for research and education in science and technology and a major asset of the University not found at any other university in the country. Both the Rochester area and the University have a history of innovation that provides a singular environment for LLE within a technologically sophisticated scientific community.
LLE is the largest U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) university-based research program in the entire nation and is home to the OMEGA lasers (Omega and Omega EP) – the largest and most capable at any academic institution in the world. LLE conducts implosion and basic physics experiments in support of the national Inertial Confinement Fusion (ICF) program, validates advanced concepts for ICF to be used on the National Ignition Facility (NIF) in order to demonstrate ignition and energy gain, serves as the principal laser research facility for three national laboratories, and is the only ICF facility with education as a primary mission. It is a vital component of the nation’s scientific capital and leadership, and key to strategic work on an independent energy future.
University of Rochester President Richard Feldman said, “For nearly 50 years, the LLE, which houses the largest and most powerful laser systems found at any academic institution in the world, has been a major contributor to our national and economic security. It was also the site of groundbreaking research that was recognized with the 2018 Nobel Prize in Physics. The LLE is the largest university-based U.S. Department of Energy program in the U.S., and the work of the 350 scientists, engineers, and staff at the lab would not be possible without the tremendous federal support we continue to receive due to the leadership of our champions in Congress, especially Senator Schumer and Senator Gillibrand.”
As one of the premier institutions training the next generation of leaders in the fields of physics, optics, and material science, LLE is an economic development magnet that provides high-tech jobs and attracts scientific talent to the Rochester community. Many Rochester companies, including Sydor Technologies, QED Technologies, and Lucid, were created as a result of the Lab and now employ hundreds of people. LLE’s work has also generated almost $16 million in business with more than 50 local companies across New York State since 2015.
Since its inception, the LLE has attracted more than $2.3 billion to New York State to support cutting-edge research. Through the LLE’s mission, the University also attracts as many as 400 additional visiting scientists each year to Rochester from national laboratories, universities, and companies, and currently hosts over 145 students (graduate, undergraduate, and high school).
A copy of Senator Gillibrand’s letter pushing for boosted funds for the LLE appears below.
Dear Chairman Alexander and Ranking Member Feinstein:
As you develop the Fiscal Year (FY) 2020 Energy and Water Development, and Related Agencies Appropriations bill, I write to request $565 million for the National Nuclear Security Administration’s (NNSA) Inertial Confinement Fusion (ICF) program, including $82.4 million for the OMEGA Laser Facility at the University of Rochester’s Laboratory for Laser Energetics (LLE). In addition, we support an independent review of the ICF program by the JASON Defense Advisory Panel. The review would address both the programmatic and technical merits of the ICF program and offer recommendations on how to further strengthen the program over the next 10 years.
The ICF program is critical to our national security as an integral part of the science-based Stockpile Stewardship Program, which maintains a safe, secure, and effective nuclear deterrent. Funding for the ICF program maintains three major, world-leading facilities: the National Ignition Facility (NIF) at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, the Z Facility at the Sandia National Laboratories, and the OMEGA Laser Facility. These are the only experimental facilities that can achieve the high-pressure and high-energy-density environments that account for 99 percent of the country’s nuclear weapon yield. Without underground testing, inertial confinement fusion research is the only way to understand specific aspects of nuclear weapons performance, weapon effects, and the vulnerability and survivability of our current stockpile.
The cutting-edge research at ICF facilities supports important decisions related to the maintenance and modernization of weapons systems, as well as achieving scientific milestones set in NNSA’s 10-year strategic plan. The ICF program is key to maintaining U.S. technological leadership and avoiding technological surprise at a time when other nuclear weapons states are making significant investments in research capabilities and nuclear forces modernization programs. For example, recent reports indicate that Russia and China are planning facilities that would rival or exceed the size of NIF. Concern for avoiding technical surprise from another country was highlighted in the 2018 Nuclear Posture Review.
NNSA is currently pursuing three credible research approaches to demonstrating ignition – Direct Drive, Indirect Drive, and Pulsed Power. The LLE is the lead laboratory for the Direct Drive approach to ignition, but is also the staging and support facility for experiments for all three approaches at the national laboratories. Progress is being made in all three approaches thanks, in part, to the LLE’s contributions. Further, the LLE is the most cost-effective facility in the science-based stockpile stewardship program, performing over 2,300 experiments per year (80 percent of the national total of experiments) in support of the inertial confinement fusion and high-energy-density physics programs with only 15 percent of the NNSA-ICF budget. Currently, demand for the OMEGA facility lasers exceeds available time by a factor of two.
The scientists and engineers working within the ICF program rely on these state-of-the-art facilities to perform their cutting-edge research. The LLE is internationally recognized for its groundbreaking research in high-energy-density physics and high-power lasers, including the NNSA funded development of chirped-pulse amplification that was recently recognized with the 2018 Nobel Prize in Physics.
However, the LLE’s benefits go well beyond the more than 2,300 experiments OMEGA conducts annually in support of the Stockpile Stewardship program. The LLE recently partnered in LaserNetUS, a new national research network to provide U.S. scientists increased access to high-intensity, ultrafast lasers to respond to the national needs identified in a recent National Academies of Sciences’ report that highlighted that the U.S. is losing its leadership position in high-intensity science and related technologies to Europe and Asia. ICF experiments are also important for training and testing the workforce we rely on to both ensure the safety and reliability of the country’s nuclear stockpile, as well as evaluate the capabilities of U.S. adversaries. The ICF program helps maintain U.S. leadership by drawing talented scientists, engineers, and students to national security and related research through the focus on achieving controlled fusion in the laboratory.
The OMEGA Laser Facility at the LLE is the NNSA’s and Department of Energy’s largest university-based program and the only major facility that trains graduate students in inertial confinement fusion and high-energy density physics, thereby serving as a critical pipeline for the development of future talent and leaders. Students from the University of Rochester and other major universities conduct their research at LLE facilities, with the OMEGA Laser Facility providing enormous value as a source of scientific education and leadership. As a result, funding for the LLE is an investment in the technical capacity of our nation’s nuclear and optical scientists, a crucial component of our national and economic security.
As home to the DOE’s National Laser Users Facility, the LLE draws 400 scientists from around the world to the greater Rochester-Finger Lakes region every year to carry out fundamental research, training, and education. More than 360 scientists, engineers, technicians, and support staff work at the lab, but the LLE impacts more than 850 jobs overall in New York State. The LLE also provides a strong stimulus to New York’s economy as a source of new start-up companies and driver of the region’s optics, imaging and photonics sector.
The $82.4 million requested for the OMEGA Laser Facility would allow the lab to meet scientific milestones in NNSA’s 10-year strategic plan for ICF in support of stockpile stewardship, supporting growing facility operations and experiments on OMEGA to make progress on all three of the most viable approaches to fusion. Funding at this level will provide the necessary resources to support the LLE’s research and academic programs to help maintain the nation’s stockpile and continue to train the future workforce. This level of funding will also accelerate development and deployment of state-of-the-art diagnostics to improve measurements and collect better data on matter under extreme conditions, helping to fully leverage the capabilities of existing facilities.
For these reasons, I thank you for your past support and respectfully request $565 million for the ICF program, including $82.4 million for the OMEGA Laser Facility. I also ask that you direct the JASON Defense Advisory Panel to conduct an independent review of the ICF program. An independent review would provide DOE guidance from technical experts on how the program can best support future nuclear deterrence and broader national security missions.
United States Senator