Press Releases Archive
Physicists at the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory (PPPL) have found a way to prevent plasma — the hot, charged state of matter composed of free electrons and atomic nuclei — from causing short circuits in machines such as spacecraft thrusters, radar amplifiers, and particle accelerators.
Before scientists can effectively capture and deploy fusion energy, they must learn to predict major disruptions that can halt fusion reactions and damage the walls of doughnut-shaped fusion devices called tokamaks. Timely prediction of disruptions, the sudden loss of control of the hot, charged plasma that fuels the reactions, will be vital to triggering steps to avoid or mitigate such large-scale events.
Stewart Prager, physicist and long-time fusion energy scientist who was director of the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory (PPPL) from 2009 to 2016, has been honored with a 2017 Distinguished Career Award from Fusion Power Associates (FPA). Prager, a leading contributor to the advancement of plasma physics and fusion science, received the award at the 38th annual meeting of FPA held Dec. 6-7 in Washington, D.C.
More than 210 million core hours on two of the most powerful supercomputers in the nation have been won by two teams led by researchers at the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory (PPPL).
Is there life beyond Earth in the cosmos? Astronomers looking for signs have found that our Milky Way galaxy teems with exoplanets, some with conditions that could be right for extraterrestrial life. Such worlds orbit stars in so-called “habitable zones,” regions where planets could hold liquid water that is necessary for life as we know it.
Scientists from the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory (PPPL) have built and delivered a high-resolution X-ray spectrometer for the largest and most powerful laser facility in the world. The diagnostic, installed on the National Ignition Facility (NIF) at the DOE’s Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, will analyze and record data from high-energy density experiments created by firing NIF’s 192 lasers at tiny pellets of fuel. Such experiments are relevant to projects that include the U.S. Stockpile Stewardship Program, which maintains the U.S.
David A. Gates, principal research physicist and Stellarator Physics Division Head at the U.S. Department of Energy’s Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory (PPPL), has been named editor-in-chief of Plasma, an online open access journal for plasma physics.
A breakthrough in the development of fusion diagnostics and the creative use of radio frequency waves to heat the plasma that fuels fusion reactions earned the 2017 outstanding research and engineering awards from the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory (PPPL). Physicist Brian Grierson and engineer Nevell Greenough received the honors from PPPL Interim Director Richard Hawryluk at a ceremony November 7 for their exceptional achievements.
Lasers that generate plasma can provide insight into bursts of subatomic particles that occur in deep space, scientists have found. Such findings could help scientists understand cosmic rays, solar flares and solar eruptions — emissions from the sun that can disrupt cell phone service and knock out power grids on Earth.
A major challenge facing the development of fusion energy is maintaining the ultra-hot plasma that fuels fusion reactions in a steady state, or sustainable, form using superconducting magnetic coils to avoid the tremendous power requirement of copper coils. While superconductors can allow a fusion reactor to operate indefinitely, controlling the plasma with superconductors presents a challenge because engineering constraints limit how quickly such magnetic coils can adjust when compared to copper coils that do not have the same constraints.
To fuse hydrogen atoms into helium, doughnut-shaped devices called tokamaks must maintain the heat of the ultrahot plasma they control. But like boiling water, plasma has blobs, or bubbles, that percolate within the plasma edge, reducing the performance of the plasma by taking away heat that sustains the fusion reactions.
Researchers led by the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory (PPPL) have proposed an innovative design to improve the ability of future fusion power plants to generate safe, clean and abundant energy in a steady state, or constant, manner. The design uses loops of liquid lithium to clean and recycle the tritium, the radioactive hydrogen isotope that fuels fusion reactions, and to protect the divertor plates from intense exhaust heat from the tokamak that contains the reactions.
A key hurdle for fusion researchers is understanding turbulence, the ripples and eddies that can cause the superhot plasma that fuels fusion reactions to leak heat and particles and keep fusion from taking place. Comprehending and reducing turbulence will facilitate the development of fusion as a safe, clean and abundant source of energy for generating electricity from power plants around the world.
Plasma transport analysis, the study of how plasma particles, heat and momentum drift across magnetic field lines, is a necessary first step for understanding how well fusion reactors are performing. Teams of scientists from the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory (PPPL) and General Atomics (GA) have joined forces to bring PPPL’s premier transport code, TRANSP, to beginning users and experts alike.
A major issue facing ITER, the international tokamak under construction in France that will be the first magnetic fusion device to produce net energy, is whether the crucial divertor plates that will exhaust waste heat from the device can withstand the high heat flux, or load, that will strike them. Alarming projections extrapolated from existing tokamaks suggest that the heat flux could be so narrow and concentrated as to damage the tungsten divertor plates in the seven-story, 23,000 ton tokamak and require frequent and costly repairs.
Physicist Francesca Poli of the U.S. Department of Energy’s Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory (PPPL) has been appointed an ITER Scientist Fellow. She will join a network of researchers who have achieved international recognition and will work closely with ITER, an international tokamak under construction in France, to develop the scientific program to be carried out during the fusion device’s lifetime.
A key issue for next-generation fusion reactors is the possible impact of many unstable Alfvén eigenmodes, wave-like disturbances produced by the fusion reactions that ripple through the plasma in doughnut-shaped fusion facilities called “tokamaks.” Deuterium and tritium fuel react when heated to temperatures near 100 million degrees Celsius, producing high-energy helium ions called alpha particles that heat the plasma and sustain the fusion reactions.
Jonathan Ng, a Princeton University graduate student at the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory (PPPL), has for the first time applied a fluid simulation to the space plasma process behind solar flares northern lights and space storms. The model could lead to improved forecasts of space weather that can shut down cell phone service and damage power grids, as well as to better understanding of the hot, charged plasma gas that fuels fusion reactions.
Physicists from the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory (PPPL) are providing critical expertise for the first full campaign of the world’s largest and most powerful stellarator, a magnetic confinement fusion experiment, the Wendelstein 7-X (W7-X) in Germany.
Physicist Fatima Ebrahimi at the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory (PPPL) has for the first time used advanced models to accurately simulate key characteristics of the cyclic behavior of edge-localized modes (ELMs), a particular type of plasma instability. The findings could help physicists more fully comprehend the behavior of plasma, the hot, charged gas that fuels fusion reactions in doughnut-shaped fusion facilities called tokamaks, and more reliably produce plasmas for fusion reactions.
Scientists have discovered a remarkably simple way to suppress a common instability that can halt fusion reactions and damage the walls of reactors built to create a “star in a jar.” The findings, published in June in the journal Physical Review Letters, stem from experiments performed on the National Spherical Torus Experiment-Upgrade (NSTX-U), at the Department of Energy’s Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory (PPPL).
Fusion power, which lights the sun and stars, requires temperatures of millions of degrees to fuse the particles inside plasma, a soup of charged gas that fuels fusion reactions. Here on Earth, scientists developing fusion as a safe, clean and abundant source of energy must produce temperatures hotter than the core of the sun in doughnut-shaped facilities called tokamaks. Much of the power needed to reach these temperatures comes from high-energy beams that physicists pump into the plasma through devices known as neutral beam injectors.
At the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory (PPPL), research performed with collaborators from Princeton University and the Institute for Advanced Computational Science at the State University of New York at Stony Brook has shown how plasma causes exceptionally strong, microscopic structures known as carbon nanotubes to grow. Such tubes, measured in billionths of a meter, are found in everything from electrodes to dental implants and have many advantageous properties.
A computer code used by physicists around the world to analyze and predict tokamak experiments can now approximate the behavior of highly energetic atomic nuclei, or ions, in fusion plasmas more accurately than ever. The new capability, developed by physicist Mario Podestà at the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory (PPPL), outfits the code known as TRANSP with a subprogram that simulates the motion that leads to the loss of energetic ions caused by instabilities in the plasma that fuels fusion reactions.
Turbulence, the violently unruly disturbance of plasma, can prevent plasma from growing hot enough to fuel fusion reactions. Long a puzzling concern of researchers has been the impact on turbulence of atoms recycled from the walls of tokamaks that confine the plasma.
Machine learning, which lets researchers determine if two processes are causally linked without revealing how, could help stabilize the plasma within doughnut-shaped fusion devices known as tokamaks. Such learning can facilitate the avoidance of disruptions — off-normal events in tokamak plasmas that can lead to very fast loss of the stored thermal and magnetic energies and threaten the integrity of the machine.
Throughout the universe, supersonic shock waves propel cosmic rays and supernova particles to velocities near the speed of light. The most high-energy of these astrophysical shocks occur too far outside the solar system to be studied in detail and have long puzzled astrophysicists. Shocks closer to Earth can be detected by spacecraft, but they fly by too quickly to probe a wave’s formation.
Opening the door to new understanding
Two major issues confronting magnetic-confinement fusion energy are enabling the walls of devices that house fusion reactions to survive bombardment by energetic particles, and improving confinement of the plasma required for the reactions. At the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory (PPPL), researchers have found that coating tokamak walls with lithium— a light, silvery metal— can lead to progress on both fronts.
China has the Experimental Advanced Superconducting Tokamak (EAST) facility, a steady-state capable superconducting tokamak with many auxiliary systems being developed to qualify reactor-relevant technology. As such, EAST is well-suited to address gaps in the physics basis for steady-state operation, plasma control, and plasma-material interfaces. Continued collaborations with EAST (ongoing since the start of the EAST project) enables U.S.
A nationwide team of researchers led by physicist C.S. Chang of the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory (PPPL) has won the use of 269.9 million supercomputer hours to complete an extreme-scale study of the complex edge region of fusion plasmas. The award was made by the DOE’s ASCR Leadership Computing Challenge (ALCC) program for 2017, supported by DOE’s Office of Science.
Lithium compounds improve plasma performance in fusion devices just as well as pure lithium does, a team of physicists at the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory (PPPL) has found.
Physicists at the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory (PPPL) have simulated the spontaneous transition of turbulence at the edge of a fusion plasma to the high-confinement mode (H-mode) that sustains fusion reactions. The detailed simulation is the first basic physics, or first-principles-based, modeling with few simplifying assumptions.
Physicists at the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory (PPPL) have helped develop a new computer model of plasma stability in doughnut-shaped fusion machines known as tokamaks. The new model incorporates recent findings gathered from related research efforts and simplifies the physics involved so computers can process the program more quickly. The model could help scientists predict when a plasma might become unstable and then avoid the underlying conditions.
Everyone knows that the game of billiards involves balls careening off the sides of a pool table — but few people may know that the same principle applies to fusion reactions. How charged particles like electrons and atomic nuclei that make up plasma interact with the walls of doughnut-shaped devices known as tokamaks helps determine how efficiently fusion reactions occur. Specifically, in a phenomenon known as secondary electron emission (SEE), electrons strike the surface of the wall, causing other electrons to be emitted.
Researchers at the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory (PPPL) and General Atomics have simulated a mysterious self-organized flow of the superhot plasma that fuels fusion reactions. The findings show that pumping more heat into the core of the plasma can drive instabilities that create plasma rotation inside the doughnut-shaped tokamak that houses the hot charged gas. This rotation may be used to improve the stability and performance of fusion devices.
Magnetic reconnection, a universal process that triggers solar flares and northern lights and can disrupt cell phone service and fusion experiments, occurs much faster than theory says that it should. Now researchers at the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory (PPPL) and Germany’s Max Planck Institute of Plasma Physics have discovered a source of the speed-up in a common form of reconnection. Their findings could lead to more accurate predictions of damaging space weather and improved fusion experiments.
Like a potter shaping clay as it spins on a wheel, physicists use magnetic fields and powerful particle beams to control and shape the plasma as it twists and turns through a fusion device. Now a physicist has created a new system that will let scientists control the energy and rotation of plasma in real time in a doughnut-shaped machine known as a tokamak.
U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) high-performance computer sites have selected a dynamic fusion code, led by physicist C.S. Chang of the DOE’s Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory (PPPL), for optimization on three powerful new supercomputers. The PPPL-led code was one of only three codes out of more than 30 science and engineering programs selected to participate in Early Science programs on all three new supercomputers, which will serve as forerunners for even more powerful exascale machines that are to begin operating in the United States in the early 2020s.
Physicist Igor Kaganovich at the Department of Energy’s (DOE) Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory (PPPL) and collaborators have uncovered some of the physics that make possible the etching of silicon computer chips, which power cell phones, computers, and a huge range of electronic devices. Specifically, the team found how electrically charged gas known as plasma makes the etching process more effective than it would otherwise be.
Physicist Fatima Ebrahimi at the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory (PPPL) has published a paper showing that magnetic reconnection — the process in which magnetic field lines snap together and release energy — can be triggered by motion in nearby magnetic fields. By running computer simulations, Ebrahimi gathered evidence indicating that the wiggling of atomic particles and magnetic fields within electrically charged gas known as plasma can spark the onset of reconnection, a process that, when it occurs on the sun, can spew plasma into space.
Physicists at the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory (PPPL) have for the first time directly observed a phenomenon that had previously only been hypothesized to exist. The phenomenon, plasmoid instabilities that occur during collisional magnetic reconnection, had until this year only been observed indirectly using remote-sensing technology.
The past year saw many firsts in experimental and theoretical research at the U.S. Department of Energy’s Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory (PPPL). Here, in no particular order, are 10 of the Laboratory’s top findings in 2016, from the first results on the National Spherical Torus Experiment-Upgrade to a new use for Einstein’s theory of special relativity to modeling the disk that feeds the supermassive black hole at the center of our galaxy.
1. First results of the National Spherical Torus Experiment-Upgrade (NSTX-U)
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