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The data-driven future of high-energy-density physics


High-energy-density physics is the field of physics concerned with studying matter at extremely high temperatures and densities. Such conditions produce highly nonlinear plasmas, in which several phenomena that can normally be treated independently of one another become strongly coupled. The study of these plasmas is important for our understanding of astrophysics, nuclear fusion and fundamental physics—however, the nonlinearities and strong couplings present in these extreme physical systems makes them very difficult to understand theoretically or to optimize experimentally. Here we argue that machine learning models and data-driven methods are in the process of reshaping our exploration of these extreme systems that have hitherto proved far too nonlinear for human researchers. From a fundamental perspective, our understanding can be improved by the way in which machine learning models can rapidly discover complex interactions in large datasets. From a practical point of view, the newest generation of extreme physics facilities can perform experiments multiple times a second (as opposed to approximately daily), thus moving away from human-based control towards automatic control based on real-time interpretation of diagnostic data and updates of the physics model. To make the most of these emerging opportunities, we suggest proposals for the community in terms of research design, training, best practice and support for synthetic diagnostics and data analysis.

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Fig. 1: Shot rates and energy of large high-powered laser facilities in different eras.
Fig. 2: Integration of astrophysical information.
Fig. 3: Integrating information sources in ICF studies.
Fig. 4: High-repetition workflow.


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This Perspective is the result of a meeting at the Lorentz Center, University of Leiden, 13−17 January 2020. The Lorentz Centre is funded by the Dutch Research Council (NWO) and the University of Leiden. The meeting also had support from the John Fell Oxford University Press (OUP) Research Fund. The organizers are grateful to T. Uitbeijerse (Lorentz Center) for facilitating the meeting. P.W.H. acknowledges funding from the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council. A portion of this work was performed under the auspices of the US Department of Energy by Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory under contract DE-AC52-07NA27344. J.A.G. and G.J.A. were supported by LLNL Laboratory Directed Research and Development project 18-SI-002. The paper has LLNL tracking number LLNL-JRNL-811857. This document was prepared as an account of work sponsored by an agency of the United States government. Neither the United States government nor Lawrence Livermore National Security, LLC, nor any of their employees makes any warranty, expressed or implied, or assumes any legal liability or responsibility for the accuracy, completeness, or usefulness of any information, apparatus, product, or process disclosed, or represents that its use would not infringe privately owned rights. Reference herein to any specific commercial product, process, or service by trade name, trademark, manufacturer, or otherwise does not necessarily constitute or imply its endorsement, recommendation, or favoring by the United States government or Lawrence Livermore National Security, LLC. The views and opinions of authors expressed herein do not necessarily state or reflect those of the United States government or Lawrence Livermore National Security, LLC, and shall not be used for advertising or product endorsement purposes. Sandia National Laboratories is a multimission laboratory managed and operated by National Technology & Engineering Solutions of Sandia, LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Honeywell International Inc., for the US Department of Energy’s National Nuclear Security Administration under contract DE-NA0003525. This paper describes objective technical results and analysis. Any subjective views or opinions that might be expressed in the paper do not necessarily represent the views of the US Department of Energy or the United States Government.

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P.W.H., J.A.G. and G.J.A. conceived the work and led the writing of the manuscript. All authors contributed to the manuscript and the ideas discussed at the Lorentz Center Meeting.

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Correspondence to Peter W. Hatfield or Jim A. Gaffney or Gemma J. Anderson.

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Peer review information Nature thanks Paul Bradley, Michael Bussmann and the other, anonymous, reviewer(s) for their contribution to the peer review of this work.

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Hatfield, P.W., Gaffney, J.A., Anderson, G.J. et al. The data-driven future of high-energy-density physics. Nature 593, 351–361 (2021).

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