PSFC principal research scientists Steven Wukitch (left) and John Wright

Paul Rivenberg

Wright, Wukitch win Landau-Spitzer Award

MIT and European Union collaborate on new plasma heating scenario to boost fusion research

Paul Rivenberg  |  PSFC

The American Physical Society (APS) has recognized MIT Plasma Science and Fusion Center (PSFC) principal research scientists John Wright and Stephen Wukitch for their collaboration with Yevgen Kazakov and Jef Ongena of the Laboratory for Plasma Physics, Brussels, Belgium, with the Landau-Spitzer Award.

Given biennially to acknowledge outstanding plasma physics collaborations between the USA and the European Union (EU), the prize this year is awarded “for experimental verification, through collaborative experiments, of a novel and highly efficient ion cyclotron resonance heating scenario for plasma heating and generation of energetic ions in magnetic fusion devices.”

This composite photo shows Steven Wukitch and John Wright (left) in front of an interior shot of Alcator C-Mod, with Yevgen Kazakov and Jef Ongena, from Laboratory for Plasma Physics, in front of an interior shot of JET. The four researchers collaborated on these two devices to gain insights into plasma heating. Photo: Paul Rivenberg (MIT), S.Kirtz (IEK-4/Plasma Physics, Research Centre Jülich, Gemany)

The collaboration originated at a presentation on a proposed heating scenario by Dr. Kazakov, given at a conference in 2015. Wright and Wukitch were confident Alcator C-Mod (world’s highest field tokamak) and the UK's JET (world’s largest tokamak) would allow for an expedited and comprehensive experimental investigation. C-Mod’s high magnetic fields made it ideal for confining energetic ions, and its unique diagnostics allowed the physics to be verified within months of the conference.  These results greatly strengthened Kazakov and Ongena's proposal for a JET experiment that conclusively demonstrated generation of energetic ions via this heating technique. Additional C-Mod experiments were the first to observe alpha-like energetic ions at high magnetic field and reactor-like densities. The joint experimental work highlighting JET and C-Mod results was published in Nature Physics.

One of the key fusion challenges is confining the very energetic fusion product ions that must transfer their energy to the core plasma before they escape confinement. This heating scenario efficiently generates energies comparable to that of those produced by fusion and can be used to study energetic ion behavior in present day devices such as JET and the stellarator Wendelstein 7-X (W-7X). It will also allow study in the non-nuclear phase of ITER, the next-generation fusion device being built in France.

“It will be the icing on the cake to use this scenario at W-7X,” says Wright. “Because stellarators have large volume and high-density plasmas it is hard for current heating scenarios to achieve those fusion energies. With conventional techniques it has been difficult to show if stellarators can confine fast ions. Using this novel scenario will definitely allow researchers to demonstrate whether a stellarator will work for fusion plasmas.”

The award, given jointly by APS and the European Physical Society, will be presented to the team in November at the APS Division of Plasma Physics meeting in Portland, Oregon.

Topics: Magnetic fusion energy, Plasma heating & current drive, Tokamak & stellarator collaborations


Fusion heating gets a boost (MIT News)