Physical Research

Fusion Research on the Rise

Four AcademiaNet scientists work in this promising field

17. 2. 2016 | The physics professors Sibylle Günter, Ursel Fantz, Mervi Mantsinen and Tünde Fülöp have a far-reaching goal: to build a nuclear fusion reactor that produces clean energy analogous to the Sun's energy generation. Currently a lot is happening in this field t- he Wendelstein 7-X experiment is running successfully, and the mega-project ITER is being built in France.
Prof. Sibylle Günter
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Prof. Sibylle Günter
The most exciting fusion research currently is undoubtedly the Wendelstein 7-X experiment in Greifswald, Germany. Two weeks ago, the first hydrogen plasma was produced within its vessel, reaching temperatures of about 80 million degrees centigrade. In December of 2015, 'first plasma' was achieved with helium plasma. Prof. Sibylle Günter is the scientific director of the responsible Max Planck Institute for Plasma Physics (IPP) in Garching near Munich and Greifswald. She has been working in fusion research for decades, and now the IPP's Wendelstein facility sets new benchmarks in fusion research.

Nuclear fusion is the opposite to nuclear fission: While heavy elements release energy when they're split, light elements like hydrogen or helium release energy when their nuclei are fused. One advantage of the latter is the absence of long-term radioactive waste. But nuclear fusions only work under extreme temperatures, measured in millions of degrees centigrate – far too hot for any material vessel. This is why the hot plasma is enclosed by magnetic fields, a fact that makes the construction of fusion facilities not easier but more complicated.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel
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(© Bundesregierung/Güngör)

German Chancellor Angela Merkel | pushes the button to start the hydrogen plasma experiment at the Max Planck Institute for Plasma Physics IPP in Greifswald on February 3, 2016. On the far left is Prof. Sibylle Günter, the scientific director of the IPP.

Over the past decades, two main designs have emerged: tokamaks and stellarators. Both designs are donut-shaped, but in the stellarator Wendelstein 7-X, an innovative construction design allows for a (theoretically) continuous plasma containment within a magnetic field. Worldwide, more tokamaks are running or being built than stellarators. Here, plasma containment is facilitated by an electric current that runs through the plasma itself – but this current causes side effects that make a continuous operation even more intricate in tokamaks. Prof. Günter is an expert for both designs, for many years she was head of the research department Tokamak Theory at the IPP.

Prof. Ursel Fantz
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Prof. Ursel Fantz
Prof. Ursel Fantz is head of the 'ITER Technology and Diagnostics' department at the IPP in Garching near Munich. ITER is a large-scale tokamak fusion experiment currently being built in France - a huge internation project. Besides fusion technology, Prof. Fantz' research interests are plasma diagnostics, ion sources and low-temperature plasmas. She received the 2006 Erwin Schrödinger Prize for the "Development of a High-Current RF-Driven Plasma Source for Negative Ions", that can be used as a heating source for ITER.

Prof. Mervi Mantsinen
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Prof. Mervi Mantsinen
Prof. Mervi Mantsinen's research is focused on the the numerical modelling of experiments in magnetically confined fusion devices. Her work is a preparation for the ITER facility. In 2013, Prof. Mantsinen became research professor at the Barcelona Supercomputing Center of ICREA (Catalan Institution for Research and Advanced Studies). Before that, she has worked at the Joint European Torus JET in England, also a tokamak device and the most important precursor of ITER. Earlier she had worked at the IPP in Garching and had studied in Finland.

Prof. Tünde Fülöp
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Prof. Tünde Fülöp
Prof. Tünde Fülöp is a theoretical plasma physicist at the Chalmers University of Technology in Goteborg, Sweden. Her research focus is magnetic fusion and laser-plasma accelerators: those are particle accelerators that work with laser beams in plasma. In both research fields, Prof. Fülöp's interests are plasma stability, impurity transport (extremely hot plasmas need to be 'cleaned' continually), runaway particles that can leave the magnetic confinement, and radiation in the context of fusion experiments.
  (© AcademiaNet)
Susanne Dambeck

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