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MIT Course Catalog 2014-2015

Home > Interdisciplinary Programs > Interdisciplinary Research & Study > Plasma Science and Fusion Center

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Plasma Science and Fusion Center

The timely development of practical fusion energy in the 21st century is arguably one of the most important challenges facing the scientific and engineering community worldwide. The Plasma Science and Fusion Center provides a focus for experimental and theoretical studies in plasma science, magnetic and inertial fusion research, and the development of related enabling technologies. The center fosters independent creativity and provides the intellectual environment for the educational training of students, research scientists, and engineers. Research activities at the Plasma Science and Fusion Center fall into five major programmatic divisions as described below.

The Alcator C-Mod Project is developing a basic understanding of the stability and transport properties of high-temperature magnetically confined toroidal plasmas at reactor-relevant conditions. Alcator C-Mod, a world-class divertor tokamak, is a compact, high-magnetic-field device (up to 8 Tesla) with record-high plasma pressure and particle and power densities. C-Mod's present research program is aimed at understanding energy and particle transport at magnetic fields, plasma densities, and first wall power loadings comparable to those of future fusion reactors. In addition, it seeks to optimize plasma performance with RF heating and non-inductive current profile control using high-power RF transmitters (8 MW at 40-80 MHz) and microwaves (3 MW at 4.6 GHz frequency).

The Physics Research Division is developing the basic experimental and theoretical understanding of magnetically confined plasmas, including experimental research in magnetic reconnection in plasmas, and development of advanced and novel plasma diagnostics. The experimental facilities in this division include the Versatile Toroidal Facility for basic plasma science research, and the Levitated Dipole Experiment (LDX) for studying space plasma physics-related phenomena. Scientists, students, and faculty in this division also carry out world-renowned theoretical research.

The High-Energy-Density Physics Division designs and implements experiments on national facilities, such as the OMEGA laser facility at the University of Rochester Laboratory for Laser Energetics, and the National Ignition Facility at Lawrence Livermore National Facility. This division discovered the existence of megagauss magnetic fields in laser-compressed pellets. This division also performs related theoretical calculations to study and explore the nonlinear dynamics and properties of plasmas in inertial fusion and those under the extreme conditions of density (~1000 g/cc), pressure (~1000 gigabar), and field strength (~megagauss). Most recently the division has conducted pioneering nuclear science experiments using high-energy-density plasmas, ushering in a new and exciting field of research, plasma nuclear science, blending the separate disciplines of plasma and nuclear physics.

The Waves and Beams Division conducts experimental and theoretical research on the physical principles of novel sources of high-power, coherent radiation ranging from the microwave to the terahertz region of the electromagnetic spectrum. Current research focuses on the gyrotron (or cyclotron resonance maser), a novel source of millimeter wave and terahertz radiation using high magnetic fields, and on novel forms of the traveling wave tube amplifier. The division also conducts research on novel concepts for high-gradient acceleration of electrons to demonstrate the principles required for future generations of electron linear accelerators. The experimental research utilizes a 25 MeV accelerator to investigate high-gradient acceleration of electrons and coherent radiation by femtosecond electron bunches.

The Fusion Technology and Engineering Division provides critical engineering support to the national fusion energy sciences program for both operating magnetic confinement fusion experiments and advanced fusion design projects. The division has extensive experience in design, analysis, development, and fabrication of advanced high-field copper and superconducting magnet technology. Present research is focused on developing second-generation high-temperature superconductors for high-field, high-current cables for fusion magnets, and for applications of superconducting DC power transmission and distribution. The division is also developing very high-field, compact cyclotron accelerators for applications such as proton radiotherapy for cancer treatment, active detection of strategic nuclear materials for protection against weapons of mass destruction, and variable energy, heavy-ion accelerators for fusion materials research.

Many academic departments are affiliated with PSFC, including the Physics, Nuclear Science and Engineering, Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, Materials Science and Engineering, Mechanical Engineering, Chemical Engineering, and Aeronautics and Astronautics. The center's programs and laboratories provide excellent forums for training students and professional researchers, and offer world-class research facilities to faculty members from many departments. Forty-seven graduate students are currently involved at all levels of thesis work. Undergraduates also can participate through the Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program.

For further information contact the director, Professor Miklos Porkolab, Room NW16-288, 617-253-8448, fax 617-253-0238,


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