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Ahmed Diallo wins DOE Early Career Research Program funding

Physicist Ahmed Diallo of the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory (PPPL) has won a highly competitive Early Career Research Program grant sponsored by the DOE’s Office of Science. His $500,000 per year award, which can be renewed for up to five years, will fund research into understandingand controlling the volatile edge of the superhot, charged plasma gas that fuels fusion reactions in devices called tokamaks. Controlling the edge of the plasma will be essential to harnessing fusion as a clean and abundant source of energy for generating electricity.  

Diallo, who serves as deputy boundary group leader for PPPL’s National Spherical Torus Experiment (NSTX), the Laboratory’s major fusion facility, was one of 61 Early Career winners chosen from among 770 university- and national laboratory-based applicants.  The awards are designed to support exceptional young researchers who are working on projects that fall within the Office of Science’s six major areas of interest, which include fusion energy sciences.  

Diallo’s research focuses on intense bursts of heat that flare from a thin section of the plasma edge called the pedestal, which is just a few centimeters wide. Such bursts can damage a tokamak’s plasma-facing components and reduce fusion power. “If we can control the pedestal we can greatly improve fusion performance and reduce large heat loads on the components,” Diallo said.  

Suppressing the torch-like surges will be vital for all toroidal, or donut-shaped, fusion facilities. These include present devices such as the NSTX, which is being upgraded, and future machines such as ITER, the huge international facility under construction in France. “We’re overjoyed by this award,” said Michael Zarnstorff, PPPL deputy director for research. “It recognizes not only Ahmed’s work and promise, but also the importance  of the pedestal for fusion energy.”  

Diallo plans to use his grant in two main stages. He first plans to enhance a diagnostic system called Thomson scattering that uses laser light to study the formation of the pedestal region over short time scales. He then aims to employ a combination of methods to control the region. 

Diallo has gained a wealth of plasma physics and diagnostic experience since coming to the United States from the west African nation of Burkina Faso to earn a bachelor’s degree at the University of Montana. He spent the summer of his senior year at PPPL as a participant in the National Undergraduate Fellowship program. He went on to receive a  doctorate in experimental plasma physics from the University of Iowa, and then did postdoctoral work at the Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne in Switzerland, and the Australian National University.  

Diallo jumped at the chance to join PPPL when a job became available in 2009. “I was very happy that a position opened up,” he said. “As an undergraduate, I had a great experience at PPPL and I had always wanted to work here.”

U.S. Department of Energy
Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory is a U.S. Department of Energy national laboratory managed by Princeton University.

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