MIT Plasma Science and Fusion Center
The Plasma Science and Fusion Center (PSFC) at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) is known internationally as a leading university research center for the study of plasma and fusion science and technology.
The PSFC is an interdisciplinary research center, approaching the study of fusion by including the majority of the engineering and science disciplines found at MIT: physics, nuclear science and engineering, mechanical engineering, chemistry, astrophysics, materials science, and more. The PSFC's mission is to identify and understand how cutting-edge advances in science and technology can provide fusion energy “smaller and sooner”. The PSFC hosts a wide variety of relatively small experimental facilities at the Albany Street corridor on the campus of MIT, including plasma devices, powerful superconductor magnets and high-energy accelerators. In parallel, novel measurements are developed for the challenging fusion environment, which are then compared to leading-edge theory and simulation. This research mission is integrated with training and mentoring a new generation of multidisciplinary fusion scientists and engineers.
The PSFC is one of the largest producers of plasma physics PhDs in the world. However, the Center is not a degree granting body and instead draws students from MIT academic departments. Since plasma physics and fusion are by nature interdisciplinary subjects, students who perform research at the PSFC satisfy their educational goals by residing at any of several departments associated with the PSFC. Each department has its own admission procedure, requirements, and offers a number of plasma-related courses, many of which are taught at the PSFC by PSFC-affiliated professors.
Originally founded in 1976 as the Plasma Fusion Center (PFC), the Center consolidated research carried out in MIT's academic departments, the Francis Bitter Magnet Laboratory (FBML), and the Research Lab for Electronics (RLE). Since its founding, the PSFC has provided a home for work on a wide range of related topics covering fusion energy, plasma physics, plasma applications and magnet technology. In 2014, the magnet lab, which specializes in magnetic resonance spectroscopy, formally became part of the PSFC.
The synergy between ongoing research in plasma physics and the magnet technology developed at the FBML led to construction of the Alcator experiment in the early 1970s – the highest field magnetic confinement device in the world at that time. Success in that program and a growing national program in Fusion Energy provided the initial impetus for the Center’s formation. Founded at the request and with the collaboration of the U.S. Department of Energy, the original grant was for construction and operation of a tokamak reactor Alcator A, the first in a series of small, high-field tokamaks, followed by Alcator C (1978) and Alcator C-Mod (1993).
MIT's most recent tokamak, Alcator C-Mod, ran from 1993 to 2016. In 2016 the project pressure reached 2.05 atmospheres – a 15 percent jump over the previous record of 1.77 atmospheres with a plasma temperature of 35 million degrees C, sustaining fusion for 2 seconds, yielding 600 trillion fusion reactions. The run involved a 5.7 tesla magnetic field. It reached this milestone on its final day of operation.
Current Research Areas
Research activities are in four interrelated areas.
Magnetic Fusion Energy
- ADX: Advanced Divertor Experiment
- Alcator C-Mod tokamak
- High-field pathway to fusion power
- Plasma heating and current drive
- Plasma turbulence
- Tokamak and stellarator collaborations
- Basic plasma theory and simulation
- High-energy-density physics
- Lab astrophysics
- Plasma fusion theory and simulation
- Plasma material interactions
Technology and Engineering
- Accelerators and detectors
- High-field magnets
- Plasma-based technologies
- Waves and beams
1976 - 1978: Albert Hall (Interim Director)
1978 - 1988: Ronald C. Davidson
1988 - 1995: Ronald R. Parker (also Deputy Director of ITER, beginning 1992)
1992 - 1994: Dieter J. Sigmar (Acting Director)
1994 - 1995: D. Bruce Montgomery (Acting Director)
1995 - 2014: Miklos Porkolab
2014 - present: Dennis G. Whyte (also Head, Department of Nuclear Science and Engineering)
The PSFC collaborates on projects with institutions around the US and the world.
- DIII-D (tokamak)
- Experimental Advanced Superconducting Tokamak (EAST)
- JET (Joint European Torus)
- National Ignition Facility (NIF)
- National Spherical Torus Experiment (NSTX)
- OMEGA at Laboratory for Laser Energetics
- Wendelstein 7-X
- Z Pulsed Power Facility
- ANDREI, MIHAI (2016-10-17). "New record gets us closer to fusion energy". ZME Science. Retrieved 2016-10-18.
- Franco, Michael (October 14, 2016). "Under pressure: New world record set on path to nuclear fusion". newatlas.com. Retrieved 2016-10-18.
- PSFC homepage
- Nuclear Science and Engineering homepage
- New Record for Fusion (MIT News)
- Alcator C-Mod pressure record: FAQ (PSFC News)
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