Dr. Michael Van Zeeland from General Atomics, led the research by international team that was composed of more than 30 scientists from across the globe who worked together to develop an approach to keep the fusion plasma in check.

To harness fusion energy fast plasma particles can be confined by a strong magnetic field, which guides the particles along a closed path. If the particles get knocked off their closed path, they make fusion less efficient and can even damage the fusion device. Scientists, therefore, are looking for ways to prevent the energetic particles from veering off course.

One way a particle can be kicked out of the fusion device is by interacting with waves. Just as a boat in a lake can be jostled by waves passing by, a particle in a plasma can get a boost of energy from waves moving along the magnetic field used to confine the plasma.

In the work here, the waves are called Alfvén waves named after the Nobel Prize winner Hannes Alfvén who discovered them. Such waves are problematic for future tokamak fusion reactors because they make it more challenging to keep the plasma hot and undergoing fusion.

Dr. Van Zeeland said, “Controlling these waves helps us hold onto the fast particles that heat fusion plasmas.”

The research, which was conducted at the DIII-D National Fusion Facility in San Diego, California, and the ASDEX-Upgrade facility in Germany, was presented at the American Physical Society Division of Plasma Physics meeting in Portland, Oregon. The scientists used a specific kind of microwaves, electron cyclotron waves, which they precisely directed near the location of the waves on the magnetic field. The microwaves were found to modify the wave activity significantly – in some cases completely removing them.

This research yielded insight into these particular microwaves and how they interact with waves on the magnetic fields. The researchers believe the results can lead to the development of approaches to control or reduce the presence of waves on the magnetic fields and could help chart a path to more efficient fusion energy.

The tokamak idea stays alive with another technology that may well have significant use in other fields. Oddly, the tokamak fusion concept is getting new technological results in close by and supporting fields. It looks more and more like the scenario that occurred in the sixties during the race to the moon. Maybe not an economic disrupter, more like a minor contributor so far.


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