NEWS | Dec. 5, 2012

Dr. Stephen P. Obenschain Receives Fusion Power Associates Leadership Award

By Daniel Parry

U.S. Naval Research Laboratory Plasma Physics Division branch head Dr. Stephen P. Obenschain has been selected by Fusion Power Associates Board of Directors to receive the 2012 FPA Leadership Award.

The award, presented at Fusion Power Associates annual meeting and symposium on December 5 in Washington, D.C., is presented to individuals who have shown outstanding leadership qualities in accelerating the development of fusion.

In selecting Obenschain, the FPA Board recognizes his many scientific and technical contributions to fusion development and the leadership he has been providing to U.S. and world inertial fusion efforts, including the leadership and vision he has been providing to planning for a next-step inertial fusion test facility.

Laser fusion has the potential to be a major new power source for the Nation, but there are scientific and technical challenges that need to be resolved, says Obenschain. The NRL laser fusion program has advanced a unique laser technology and high-performance target designs that could shorten the development time and cost for fusion power.

As head of the laser fusion program at the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory, Obenschain's research efforts include laser-plasma interaction experiments in large-scale simulations of pellet implosions in development of high-energy krypton-fluoride laser technology as well as in other critical areas of science and technology needed for laser inertial fusion energy.

In laser fusion small pellets containing frozen heavy isotopes of hydrogen (deuterium and tritium) would be compressed and heated by laser beams to initiate thermonuclear burn with the release of a large amount of energy.

Obenschain, along with Dr. Robert Lehmberg, co-invented the induced spatial incoherence (ISI) technique allowing uniform illumination of targets by high-energy lasers. Obenschain also led the first experimental efforts that showed such beam-smoothing schemes suppress deleterious laser-plasma instability. For this work he was a recipient of the 1993 American Physical Society (APS) award for Excellence in Plasma Physics Research.

Obenschain was project manager for the construction of Nike, the world's largest krypton fluoride laser facility. Nike has the deepest UV wavelength of all high-energy lasers, providing a distinct advantage in driving matter to the high velocities -- hundreds of miles per second -- required for fusion implosions. At present Nike is used by NRL scientists to study high-intensity laser-matter interactions in support of the Department of Energy's Inertial Fusion program.

Fellow of the American Physical Society, Obenschain received a B.S. in physics from the University of Virginia and a Ph.D. in plasma physics from University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA).