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Fusion power is based on making
hydrogen atoms, or isotopes of
hydrogen, combine together, or
fuse, to form an atom of helium.
During this process some of the
mass of the hydrogen is
converted to energy. It is this
process that has captivated
scientists for decades because
if harnessed, it could lead us
into a world of virtually
limitless and relatively clean
energy.
The key to making fusion work
is to maintain a high enough
temperature and density to make
the atoms stick together,
overcoming their natural
resistance. But various kinds
of turbulence within the plasma
can disrupt the process,
resulting in a loss of some of
that essential heat.
However understanding and
being able to predict exactly
how this turbulence happens and
how to overcome it has been a
major roadblock in fusion
research until now. The results
of experiments have so far
failed to match the results
predicted based on theory.
Now, researchers at MIT's
Plasma Science and Fusion Center,
in collaboration with others,
say they have found the key to
explaining these discrepancies.
Using some of the world's
largest supercomputers the
researchers were able to figure
out that there are actually two
types of turbulence within the
plasma, and their interactions
can account for the enhanced
heat loss. For the first time,
this cutting edge simulation
of realistic plasma demonstrates
the coexistence of turbulence
at both the tiniest scale, that
of electrons, and at a scale
sixty times larger, that
of ions. The simulation shows
plasma fluctuations due to
both types of turbulence in
the core of Alcator C-Mod
reactor at MIT, which closely
match the observed results.
These results provide a likely
explanation for this longstanding
fusion mystery and put us one
step closer to the goal of
fusion energy.