WATERLOO, Ill. – As the year closes, one of the biggest national stories of 2022 might be the nuclear fusion “breakthrough” earlier this month in California.

One of the scientists working on the project got his start in the Metro East. Dr. Mark Herrmann is now working to create a way to cleaner energy for all.

When he was a student at Gibault Catholic High school in Waterloo, Herrmann loved science. He learned, among many things, about the largest nuclear reactor in our solar system, the sun. 

These days, Herrmann serves as a program director for Weapon Physics & Design at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory. The sun is a point of focus in his laboratory. 

“We’ve been doing research into fusion, the energy process in our stars and nuclear weapons,” says Herrmann. “We’ve been doing research on that for many decades to keep our nuclear stockpile secure and effective so that there’s no need to do underground nuclear weapons testing.  We do it so that one day it could be a good carbon-free energy source.” 

It’s an announcement that has sparked a lot of excitement among scientists. 

At the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory’s National Ignition Facility, atoms are pushed together through a laser that produced more energy than was used to create it in a test on Dec. 5.

“We use the world’s most energetic laser to squeeze fusion fuel to extreme temperatures, 100s of millions of degrees, basically greater than what you would find at the center of the sun,” says Herrmann. 

Herrmann got his start in Columbia, Illinois at Immaculate Conception before moving onto Waterloo and Gibault High School and eventually Washington University for his undergrad degree.  

“When you’re running something that is a dream or vision that breakthroughs can happen,” says Mike Kish, principal of Gibault Catholic High School. “We know this can happen, and sometimes it takes 30 years.” 

It’s those early days and influences that have led Herrmann to a successful science career and a nuclear fusion breakthrough that is still years away before a “Back to the Future” moment.  

“Getting more energy out than what we put in is a steppingstone to a potential energy power plant that could be possible in the future,” says Herrmann.