Remote Principal Investigator (PI): Bringing Omega to the PI

January 2021

To adapt to social distancing, travel restrictions, and other COVID-19 preventive measures, all researchers at LLE and our external users have been participating in remotePI, a new protocol that enables principal investigators (PI’s) to safely and effectively conduct laser experiments via remote access. Users need only a device and internet connection to participate. Even after the restrictions imposed by the pandemic have lifted, many investigators have indicated that they will want to continue using remotePI. This gives them the option of remaining at their home institutions rather than travelling long distances and permitting more collaborators to participate in the experiments remotely.

OMEGA and OMEGA EP control rooms
Shown are the control rooms of OMEGA (top) and OMEGA EP (bottom) Laser Systems. The shot director in each case is in touch with the remote PI during a shot campaign.

RemotePI achieves PI location independence with just a few modest updates to LLE facilities. These include:

  • The addition of an on-line livestream, named “ShotStream,” as a conduit between the PI and the facility featuring an audio/video venue accessible throughout the world and a variety of video feeds (cameras, screen shares, instrument video feeds);
  • Modification of LLE websites to eliminate face-to-face or paper transaction requirements
    • distribute pre-shot and post-shot data to the PI
    • collect feedback from PI (via the Experimental Effectiveness Assessment Form)
  • Revisions of shot day protocols that leverage the livestream and website features to efficiently carry out all shot day transactions between the PI and the Facility.


The ShotStream Zoom meeting connects the PI to the facility. There is a unique, password-protected ShotStream for each shot day on each facility. Each ShotStream now has two “rooms.”

  • All participants enter into the main room
  • Shot Director will “invite” participants into the Control Room “breakout” room
  • Authorized participants can move between the two rooms
ShotStream virtual facility conceptual layout. The virtual main room is used by all participants as a collaboration area for crew briefings, etc.
The virtual control room is used for direct communication between the PI and shot crew.

The remotePI shot day timeline is the same as it was before the pandemic. The OMEGA/OMEGA EP shot cycle is a series of transactions between the PI and the facility. The remotePI system: creates a virtual venue for all these transactions; enhances communication bandwidth between the PI and the facility through integrated audio, screen sharing, and live video from the Control Rooms, Conference Rooms, Laser/Target Bays, and other support areas; and relaxes PI location dependence.

On-demand mobile video feeds on ShotStream improve the efficiency and flexibility of the facility: PI’s can see instrument setup and conditions in real time, Instrument Specialists who are not inside the facility can quickly assess a diagnostic’s situation and consult with the PI and on-site technicians to implement changes, and mobile cameras can be deployed to any of our areas.

The remotePI system has been used on all production OMEGA and OMEGA EP target shots since 3 June 2020. Neither the effectiveness nor the availability of these target shots have been compromised by remotePI operations.

DATE RANGE

NUMBER OF SHOTS AVERAGE AVAILABILITY

AVERAGE EFFECTIVENESS

9/1/19 to 3/22/20

648

93.9%

94.9%

6/3/20 to 12/14/20

658

91.1%

94.5%

Table 1: Comparison of OMEGA 60 performance pre/post COVID-19

DATE RANGE

NUMBER OF SHOTS AVERAGE AVAILABILITY

AVERAGE EFFECTIVENESS

9/1/19 to 3/22/20

503

96.7%

95.7%

6/3/20 to 12/14/20

516

93.9%

95.4%

Table 2: Comparison of OMEGA EP performance pre/post COVID-19

The post-shot reports from PI’s using remotePI have been favorable. For example, Patrick Poole of LLNL, the first external user of remotePI, wrote: “The remotePI experience was quite smooth. Having the various interested parties on chat allowed rapid problem solving and useful discussion when a request or question arose. Private and public chat options actually smoothed the PI experience as several quick answers or discussions could be given without either side waiting long for responses.” Poole and other users of remotePI have reported success overall, although they miss seeing and interacting with LLE researchers when conducting an experiment in person.

The remotePI protocol meets its intended goal of providing an on-site PI experience to an off-site PI. It facilitates PI-to-Operations shot day transactions in the COVID-19 world by adhering to social distancing and overcoming travel restrictions. These adaptations use only commonly available equipment and they mirror normal operations with little or no learning curve. They support efficient operations by meeting or exceeding “usual” OMEGA levels of effectiveness and flexibility and leverage new features to improve the effectiveness of stakeholders. Although implemented to make shot operations possible during the pandemic, the remotePI option has proven to be an efficient tool that is likely to deliver significant operational and economic advantages even after the end of the crisis.

The very first off-site PI, Dr. Patrick Poole of LLNL, is pictured here at his home while controlling the SRSXRay-20A campaign on OMEGA on 3 June 2020.
Ion acceleration experiment using OMEGA EP led by University of California, San Diego in September 2020. Multiple team members can be seen here on the remotePI ShotStream screen.