Sciortino atop mountain in yellow jack, blue skies

Since completing his award-winning thesis at MIT, Francesco Sciortino has moved to the Max Planck Institute for Plasma Physics in Germany. Here he stands on Wendelstein Mountain, the namesake of the stellarator that has captured his imagination.

Photo: Paul Rivenberg

Francesco Sciortino receives Piovesan Study Award

PSFC alumni’s thesis considered best in physics of controlled fusion


Recent MIT graduate Francesco Sciortino (MIT PhD’21) has been honored with the 2022 Paolo Piovesan Study Award for the best PhD thesis in "physics of controlled fusion." The award is presented by Conzorzio RFX, the operational arm of the Padua Fusion Research Laboratory, and is open to Italian students who have received a PhD degree in a university in Italy or abroad, or foreign students who have obtained a PhD degree in an Italian university. 

Under the supervision of Plasma Science and Fusion Center research scientist Nathan Howard and PSFC Associate Director Earl Marmar, Sciortino pursued his thesis, titled “Experimental Inference of Particle Transport in Tokamak Plasmas”. In his work, Sciortino explores a number of topics related to particle and impurity transport, particularly how one can extract hidden information about the properties of magnetic confinement from experimental data.

The Bayesian analysis techniques that Sciortino used to compare experimental results to theory are computationally-intensive, involving millions of simulations that must be efficiently adapted to run on a parallel processing system. This motivated him to develop new tools to simulate particle transport in a high-performance computing environment, leading to the release of the open-source Aurora code. The Aurora package is now used on tokamaks and stellarators around the world.

“My thesis developed a framework to compare theoretical plasma physics models of varying complexity to experimental inferences, finding encouraging agreement,” notes Sciortino. “Experiments on Alcator C-Mod and DIII-D, in particular, have suggested that particle transport of heavy ion species in tokamaks can be predicted with relatively high accuracy within experimental and modeling uncertainties.”

Sciortino is grateful for the support of his thesis advisors, “who gave me plenty of freedom during my PhD and supported me in the good and the bad times,” and Senior Research Scientist John Rice, “who was always ready to explain the intricacies of satellite lines in a K-alpha x-ray spectrum.” 

After completing his PhD, Sciortino moved to the Max Planck Institute for Plasma Physics (IPP) near Munich, in Germany, where he has focused on the interpretation of divertor spectroscopy and reduced divertor modeling on the ASDEX Upgrade tokamak. He notes that he has become increasingly compelled by stellarators, particularly the Wendelstein 7-X  (W7-X) stellarator in Greifswald, Germany. 

“I see in W7-X a path to a robust and coherent concept for a fusion power plant,” he says. “Consequently, I have been shifting my research progressively towards stellarators. I will soon be moving to a fusion startup working to expand on this concept. Stay tuned!”

Topics: Magnetic fusion energy, Plasma science, Alcator C-Mod tokamak, Plasma theory & simulation, Earl Marmar