In our never-ending quest to understand fusion and its potential use in energy production, I visited the Wendelstein 7-X fusion experiment in Greifswald run by the Max-Planck-Institut für Plasmaphysik. We started out with a visit to the experiment hall, while experimentalist Matthias Hirsch gave us an overview over the machine. Next we discussed theory and modeling with Ralf Kleiber. Finally, I returned to Matthias Hirsch, and we chatted about more experimental aspects of Wendelstein. It is probably best to listen to our previous fusion episodes (22, 157 and 304) before listening to this one.
Justin and Jason wrote a nice book on fusion called The Future of Fusion Energy, and this episode is based on this book. We start out by revisiting the breakthroughs that drove progress in fusion over the decades, including understanding stars, the tokamak, superconducting magnets, supercomputers and a number of specific aspects of plasma physics. We then look at the current state of fusion research as well as where it might go.
Superconductivity, the ability of a material to carry electrical current with zero resistance, is a surprising property of nature, which man has been able to exploit in many ways, in particular, for high-performance magnets. Those are used in magnetic resonance imagers, but also in colliders and fusion reactors. In this episode we discuss the basics of superconductivity and its uses with Pierre Bauer, a superconductor engineer at ITER.
In this episode we chat about the science and engineering involved in nuclear weapons. Our guest is Alex Wellerstein of the Stevens Institute of Technology. We talk about atomic bombs as well as hydrogen bombs, how to refine the necessary fuels as well as a little bit of history.
During my trip to the US I also visited the Basic Plasma Science Facility at the UCLA in Los Angeles. I talked with the two professors who run the facility, Walter Gekelman and Troy Carter. We discuss the basics of plasma, the research questions of plasma physics and some of the experimental challenges. I also get (and report on) a tour through the facility, which was very impressive, mainly because the whole system was built by the team around Walter and Troy!