Astronomy and Astrophysics

Enclosing a Star: The Challenges of Materials in Magnetic Fusion Energy
Zachary Hartwig, Massachusetts Institute of Technology

The scientific challenges surrounding materials in a future magnetic fusion energy power plant are perhaps some of the most extreme ever undertaken by physicists and engineers [1]. Unlike the stars, whose thermonuclear fusion processes are confined by gravity in the void of space, terrestrial fusion must occur within a physical structure on Earth. Powerful magnets confine the 100 million degree ionized gas, or plasma, that is required in fusion away from from the structure's material surfaces. This magnetic "bottle", however, is not perfect. The enormous amount of heat, particles, and radiation that leak to the nearby surfaces create some of the most hostile conditions in the universe for materials and, in turn, affect the confinement of the plasma. The boundary between the confined plasma and the material surfaces represents an immensely complex frontier for plasma physicists, materials scientists, and nuclear engineers.

Ultimately, the plasma-material frontier must be crossed, as the viability of magnetic fusion energy is inextricably linked with the performance of its materials [2], which dictate the economics, safety, and lifespan of a commercial fusion energy power plant. Doing so will require new scientific insights into the behavior of materials in unexplored regimes of physical and chemical interactions as well as novel instrumentation capable of precise measurements in such extreme conditions. This talk will focus on the exciting science and multidisciplinary progress that is taking place towards solving materials challenges for magnetic fusion energy.

References:
[1] B. Wirth et. al, MRS Bulletin, Volume 36, March 2011. doi:10.1557/mrs.2011.37

[2] A. Moslan and T Wiss, Nature Materials, Volume 5, 2006, pages 679-680. doi:10.1038/nmat1715

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