On a Tuesday morning in November, “Sustainability, Energy, and Technology” class visited the MIT Plasma Fusion Center to learn about the research performed there to enable nuclear fusion.
Our tour guide was a highly knowledgeable and articulate third-year MIT graduate student; he first described the process of the nuclear fusion that occurs in the Sun, the benefits of nuclear fusion should the technology ever become viable, and the extreme difficulty in engineering controlled nuclear fusion on Earth.
He then described the necessity of understanding the properties of plasmas to the problem of designing a fusion reactor that puts out more energy than takes in. The temperature at MIT’s nuclear fusion reactor, Alcator C-Mod, routinely exceeds 30 million degrees Celcius, twice as high as that of the Sun. Since this unimaginably high temperature would melt any real world container, the plasma inside the reactor is confined by a magnetic field in the shape of a torus; this type of a reactor is called a Tokamak, which is a Russian acronym for toroidal chamber with magnetic coils.
We visited the control room where researchers use computers to set-up, control, and monitor experiments in the fusion reactor. We visited at a time where the reactor wasn’t running, so the control room was nearly empty.
We then put on hard hats and visited the area that houses Alcator Mod-C.
Since the energy requirements to run Alcator Mod-C are way beyond the energy generating capabilities of the local utilities, a 75-ton flywheel (housed in another building) is used to provide the necessary power.
More about this once-in-a-lifetime trip can be found on the students’ blogging assignments, which are linked to at https://sites.suffolk.edu/sf197f16/blogs/
Submitted by Professor Lisa Shatz