Lawrence Livermore Uses Virtalis to Further Fusion Research
Kyle Maxey posted on March 23, 2016 |
LLNL’s NIF model. Obviously a nightmare to visualize and understand.

LLNL’s NIF model. Obviously a nightmare to visualize and understand.

Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL) has been operating fusion experiments at its National Ignition Facility (NIF) since 2011. Since that time, major progress has been made in our understanding of fusion reactions, but like all experiments, the data gleaned eventually necessitates retooling the experiment to progress the research. For the NIF, the time for those experimental improvements is rapidly approaching.

The NIF is a stadium-sized facility meant to service a reaction that occurs for only a 20 billionths of a second and focuses on a target no bigger than a ball bearing (about 2 mm in diameter). Once the NIF’s experimental sequence is initiated, 192 high-powered lasers pump energy along a 1,500 meter pathway toward the target chamber. Once these beams are focused inside the chamber, their collective power peaks at 500 trillion watts, every one of which is aimed at their miniscule target. Within nanoseconds an awesome reaction begins, and the physics that drive our Sun are recreated in miniature in an attempt to harness the potential for almost limitless energy.

As you can imagine, trying to recreate the mechanics of the Sun requires an astonishing amount of sophisticated machinery and facility design. In fact, an enormous team was marshaled together to create the NIF, and a whole host of CAD packages were used to create the lab.

A schematic of the NIF facility.

A schematic of the NIF facility.

Paul Bloom, a mechanical designer at LLNL, highlighted that point, “Our model of the NIF is both very large and highly complex. It combines models from several CAD platforms and neutral CAD exchange formats.” 

With a saturation of CAD data on their hands, NIF designers realized that their model was becoming too complex to load, let alone understand, in a traditional CAD viewport. NIF designers realized that virtual reality (VR) was going to be the only way to make sense of their high-tech facility.

“There is no question that the model would be far too difficult to review using a standard CAD program, as the model would be too large to navigate in real time,” Bloom continued. “It was therefore with trepidation that we transferred the files across to Virtalis’ Visionary Render VR system from the older software. Not only did everything transfer perfectly, but there was a visual upgrade—suddenly all the surfaces looked much more realistic.”

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