Vinícius Duarte wins IUPAP award for Alfvén wave research

Written by
Tristan Weisenbach
June 26, 2024

Vinícius Njaim Duarte, a research physicist at the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory (PPPL), was awarded the International Union of Pure and Applied Physics’ (IUPAP) 2024 Early Career Scientist Prize for his research into the behavior of plasma waves to achieve clean and sustainable fusion energy. 

“It’s an honor to win this award and an encouragement to keep trying to understand and to solve issues that are roadblocks for fusion,” Duarte said. “It is very difficult to make fusion happen, and if I can make even small contributions to certain aspects of it, that’s very helpful.”

IUPAP, founded in 1922, is an international physics organization with 60 member countries. Its Early Career Scientist Prize recognizes the contributions of early career physicists with up to eight years of research experience after achieving their doctoral degree.

Upon receiving notification of his win in early June, Duarte was invited to attend the award ceremony and present a talk at the International Congress on Plasma Physics, which will be held this September in Belgium.

Much of Duarte’s research involves examining instabilities in plasma, including the nonlinear response of Alfvén waves in fusion experiments. When waves become unstable, escaping particles can damage a fusion vessel’s inner walls. As a member of the Theory Department, Duarte examines the specific behaviors of these waves and develops a better understanding of how to control them by using theoretical perspectives and numerical simulations. 

He earned his undergraduate and master’s degrees at the State University of Campinas in Brazil. While working on his doctoral thesis at the University of São Paulo, he was on a long-term assignment at PPPL to conduct research. He officially joined the Lab in May 2018 as an associate research physicist, later becoming a staff research physicist in 2020 and a research physicist in early 2024. In 2023, he received a DOE Early Career Research Award.

“The main advantage of being at a national lab like PPPL is that there are experts in every single subfield of plasma physics, so you seldom get stuck for too long in your research,” Duarte said. “You can always reach out; you can always contact somebody who can help you and clarify.”

Duarte is the second PPPL researcher to win the Early Career Scientist Prize. Ilya Dodin, a principal research physicist, won the award — formerly called the Young Scientist Prize — in 2011. 

Duarte plans to continue his research alongside his colleagues at PPPL and across the country at institutes such as General Atomics and the University of California, Irvine. “There is still a lot to be done,” he said. 

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