From PPPL: Two Items


From PPPL

Advances in plasma and fusion science are described in Quest, PPPL’s research magazine.

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July 9, 2018
Larry Bernard

From analyzing solar flares to pursuing “a star in a jar” to produce virtually limitless electric power, scientists at the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory (PPPL) have developed insights and discoveries over the past year that advance understanding of the universe and the prospect for safe, clean, and abundant energy for all humankind.

“Our research sheds new light on the function of plasma, the state of matter that comprises 99 percent of the visible universe,” writes Steve Cowley, new director of PPPL, in the 2018 edition of Quest, PPPL’s annual research magazine. Quest, just published in July 2018, summarizes in short, easy-to-digest format, much of the research that occurred at PPPL over the last year.

Among the stories are descriptions of how scientists are finding ways to calm instabilities that can lead to the disruption of fusion reactions. Such research is critical to the next steps in advancing fusion energy to enable fusion devices to produce and sustain reactions that require temperatures many times hotter than the core of the sun.

Fusion, the power that drives the sun and stars, fuses light elements and releases enormous energy. If scientists can capture and control fusion on Earth, the process could provide clean energy to produce electricity for millions of years.

Plasma, the state of matter composed of free electrons and atomic nuclei that fuels fusion reactions and makes up 99 percent of the visible universe, unites PPPL research from astrophysics to nanotechnology to the science of fusion energy. Could planets beyond our solar system be habitable, for example? PPPL and Princeton scientists say that stellar winds — the outpouring of charged plasma particles from the sun into space — could deplete a planet’s atmosphere and dry up life-giving water over hundreds of millions of years, rendering a blow to the theory that these planets could host life as we know it.

Quest details efforts to understand the scientific basis of fusion and plasma behavior. For example, in the section on Advancing Fusion Theory, physicists describe how bubble-like “blobs” that arise at the edge of the plasma can carry off heat needed for fusion reactions. Improved understanding of such behavior could lead to better control of the troublesome blobs.

Another story outlines how researchers are using a form of artificial intelligence called “machine learning” to predict when disruptions that can halt fusion reactions and damage fusion devices occur. The innovative technique has so far yielded outstanding results.

Included in Quest are descriptions of collaborations PPPL scientists and engineers have working on fusion devices around the world. These collaborations include ITER, the large multinational fusion device under construction in France, as well as research on devices in China, South Korea, and at the National Ignition Facility in the United States.

Read also about PPPL’s long-standing efforts to educate students, teachers, and the public around STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math), as well as some of the award-winning work by scientists and inventors at PPPL.

Quest can be accessed here, or at this web address: https://www.pppl.gov/quest

See the full article here .

PPPL diagnostic is key to world record of German fusion experiment
July 9, 2018
John Greenwald

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PPPL physicist Novimir Pablant, right, and Andreas Langenberg of the Max Planck Institute in front of the housing for the x-ray crystal spectrometer prior to its installation in the W7-X. (Photo by Scott Massida )

When Germany’s Wendelstein 7-X (W7-X) fusion facility set a world record for stellarators recently, a finely tuned instrument built and delivered by the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory (PPPL) proved the achievement.

Wendelstein 7-AS built in built in Greifswald, Germany

The record strongly suggests that the design of the stellarator can be developed to capture on Earth the fusion that drives the sun and stars, creating “a star in a jar” to generate a virtually unlimited supply of electric energy.

The record achieved by the W7-X, the world’s largest and most advanced stellarator, was the highest “triple product” that a stellarator has ever created. The product combines the temperature, density and confinement time of a fusion facility’s plasma — the state of matter composed of free electrons and atomic nuclei that fuels fusion reactions — to measure how close the device can come to producing self-sustaining fusion power. (The triple product was 6 x 1026 degrees x second per cubic meter — the new stellarator record.)

Spectrometer maps the temperature

The achievement produced temperatures of 40 million degrees for the ions and an energy confinement time, which measures how long it takes energy to leak out across the confining magnetic fields of 0.22 seconds. (The density was 0.8 x 1020 particles per cubic meter.) Measuring the temperature was an x-ray imaging crystal spectrometer (XICS) built by PPPL physicist Novimir Pablant, now stationed at W7-X, and engineer Michael Mardenfeld at PPPL. “The spectrometer provided the primary measurement,” said PPPL physicist Sam Lazerson, who also collaborates on W7-X experiments.

Pablant implemented the device with scientists and engineers of the Max Planck Institute of Plasma Physics (IPP), which operates the stellarator in the Baltic Sea town of Greifswald, Germany. “It has been a great experience to work closely with my colleagues here on W7-X,” Pablant said. “Installing the XICS system was a major undertaking and it has been a pleasure to work with this world-class research team. The initial results from these high-performance plasmas are very exciting, and we look forward to using the measurements from our instrument to further understanding of the confinement properties of W7-X, which is a truly unique magnetic fusion experiment.”

Researchers at IPP welcomed the findings. “Without XICS we could not have confirmed the record,” said Thomas Sunn Pedersen, director of stellarator edge and divertor physics at IPP. Concurred physicist Andreas Dinklage, lead author of a Nature Physics (link is external) paper confirming a key feature of the W7-X physical design: “The XICS data set was one of the very valuable inputs that confirmed the physics predictions.”

PPPL physicist David Gates, technical coordinator of the U.S. collaboration on W7-X, oversaw construction of the instrument. “The XICS is an incredibly precise device capable of measuring very small shifts in wavelength,” said Gates. “It is a crucial part of our collaboration and we are very grateful to have the opportunity to participate in these important experiments on the groundbreaking W7-X device.”

PPPL provides added components

PPPL has designed and delivered additional components installed on the W7-X. These include a set of large trim coils that correct errors in the magnetic field that confines W7-X plasma, and a scraper unit that will lessen the heat reaching the divertor that exhausts waste heat from the fusion facility.

The recent world record was a result of upgrades that IPP made to the stellarator following the initial phase of experiments, which began in December 2015. Improvements included new graphite tiles that enabled the higher temperatures and longer duration plasmas that produced the results. A new round of experiments is to begin this July using the new scraper unit that PPPL delivered.

Stellarators, first constructed in the 1950s under PPPL founder Lyman Spitzer, can operate in a steady state, or continuous manner, with little risk of the plasma disruptions that doughnut-shaped tokamak fusion facilities face. But tokamaks are simpler to design and build, and historically have confined plasma better, which accounts for their much wider use in fusion laboratories around the world.

An overall goal of the W7-X is to show that the twisty stellarator design can confine plasma just as well as tokamaks. When combined with the ability to operate virtually free of disruptions, such improvement could make stellarators excellent models for future fusion power plants.

See the full article here .


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Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory is a U.S. Department of Energy national laboratory managed by Princeton University. PPPL, on Princeton University’s Forrestal Campus in Plainsboro, N.J., is devoted to creating new knowledge about the physics of plasmas — ultra-hot, charged gases — and to developing practical solutions for the creation of fusion energy. Results of PPPL research have ranged from a portable nuclear materials detector for anti-terrorist use to universally employed computer codes for analyzing and predicting the outcome of fusion experiments. The Laboratory is managed by the University for the U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Science, which is the largest single supporter of basic research in the physical sciences in the United States, and is working to address some of the most pressing challenges of our time. For more information, please visit science.energy.gov.