When the ITER experimental fusion reactor begins operation in the 2020s, over 40 diagnostic tools will provide essential data to researchers seeking to understand plasma behavior and optimize fusion performance. But before the ITER tokamak is built, researchers need to determine an efficient way of fitting all of these tools into a limited number of shielded ports that will protect the delicate diagnostic hardware and other parts of the machine from neutron flux and intense heat.
The tools used by researchers to assess the characteristics of superheated and electrically charged gases known as plasmas.
Physicist Rajesh Maingi remembers nearly everything. Results of experiments he did 20 years ago play back instantly in his mind, as do his credit card and bank account numbers.
His knack for recalling research results comes in particularly handy. “Knowing results from five-to-20 years ago makes it easier to ask the right questions for contemporary scientific programs,” Maingi said. Such findings have made him a leading expert on key aspects of the physics of plasma, the superhot, charged gas that fuels fusion reactions in donut-shaped magnetic facilities called tokamaks.
Three teams led by scientists at the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory (PPPL) have won major blocks of time on two of the world’s most powerful supercomputers. Two of the projects seek to advance the development of nuclear fusion as a clean and abundant source of energy by improving understanding of the superhot, electrically charged plasma gas that fuels fusion reactions.
David Johnson is a principal research physicist with broad experience in techniques and instrumentation for measuring the characteristics of magnetic fusion plasmas. He has specific expertise in laser Thomson scattering systems, and has installed and operated such systems on many fusion devices around the world. He managed a division of plasma diagnostic experts for the Tokamak Fusion Test Reactor (TFTR) and National Spherical Torus Experiment (NSTX) projects, more recently becoming the Work Breakdown Structure Team Leader for US ITER Diagnostics.
Stefan Gerhardt leads the Advanced Scenarios and Control research group in the NSTX organization. He operates numerous diagnostics on NSTX, along with designing plasma control schemes and running physics experiments. He has previously worked on a wide variety of fusion machines, including spherical tokamaks, stellarators, and field reversed configurations.
Robert (Bob) Kaita is the head of plasma diagnostic operations and acting head of boundary physics operations for the National Spherical Torus Experiment (NSTX). Kaita is also a co-principal investigator of the Lithium Tokamak Experiment (LTX). He is a Fellow of the American Physical Society and a recipient of the Kaul Foundation Prize for Excellence in Plasma Physics Research. He has supervised the research of many students in the PPPL Program in Plasma Physics in the Department of Astrophysical Sciences at Princeton University.
Plainsboro, New Jersey — The U.S. Department of Energy’s Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory (PPPL) honored three fusion energy researchers — Manfred Bitter, Robert Ellis, and Ken Hill — for their scientific accomplishments during an awards ceremony on March 8 at the laboratory. Physicists Bitter and Hill received the Kaul Prize for Excellence in Plasma Physics Research and Technology Development. Ellis, an engineer, received the PPPL Distinguished Engineering Fellow award.
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