"We are creating a miniature star for a billionth of a second," says Robert L. McCrory,director of the University of Rochester’s Laboratory for Laser Energetics. "It’s not something an individual scientist can do."

Indeed, at McCrory’s upstate New York lab, it took 60 scientists to mimic Mother Nature in a project capped last March with a feat in fusion that no other research team had ever done.

McCrory and his crew of colleagues used lasers to heat and compress a capsule of hydrogen isotopes to achieve the kind of densities previously achieved only in the early stages of thermonuclear fusion in stars. This advance is being lauded as an important step in testing the feasibility of hamessing controlled fusion reactions for the production of energy.

The Laser Energetics lab’s coup serves as a clear example of how a large, well-funded scientific team can successfully tackle problems of extraordinary complexity. It...

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