Plasma Science and Fusion Center

The timely development of practical fusion energy in the 21st century is arguably one of the most important challenges facing the scientific and engineering community worldwide. The Plasma Science and Fusion Center (PSFC) provides a focus for experimental and theoretical studies in plasma science, magnetic and inertial fusion research, and the development of related enabling technologies. The center fosters independent creativity and provides the intellectual environment for the educational training of students, research scientists, and engineers. Research activities at the Plasma Science and Fusion Center fall into five major programmatic divisions as described below.

The Alcator C-Mod Project is developing a basic understanding of the stability and transport properties of high-temperature magnetically confined toroidal plasmas at reactor-relevant conditions. Alcator C-Mod, a world-class divertor tokamak, is a compact, high-magnetic-field device (up to 8 Tesla) with record-high plasma pressure and particle and power densities. C-Mod's present research program is aimed at understanding energy and particle transport at magnetic fields, plasma densities, and first wall power loadings comparable to those of future fusion reactors. In addition, it seeks to optimize plasma performance with RF heating and non-inductive current profile control using high-power RF transmitters (8 MW at 40–80 MHz) and microwaves (3 MW at 4.6 GHz frequency). The upcoming run campaign, in 2016, is slated to be the final operation of C-Mod. The experimental team, including scientists, postdocs and students, is transitioning to focus on collaborations with other fusion facilities, primarily at DIII-D and NSTX-U, along with smaller, but still significant efforts at European and Asian facilities.

The Physics Research Division is developing the basic experimental and theoretical understanding of magnetically confined plasmas, including experimental research on off-site major fusion facilities both in the US and abroad. The work is leveraged on the development of advanced and novel plasma diagnostics developed by MIT students, faculty, and PSFC research staff. This division is also the home for the world-renowned PSFC theoretical research group. Consisting of scientists, students, and faculty, this group implements not only basic plasma theory but also advanced fusion theory using both analytic techniques and advanced computing methods carried out on the nation’s largest supercomputers. The computational group enjoys worldwide recognition for their collaborative work with researchers at major fusion centers in China and Korea.   

The High-Energy-Density Physics Division designs and implements experiments on national facilities, such as the OMEGA laser facility at the University of Rochester Laboratory for Laser Energetics, and the National Ignition Facility at Lawrence Livermore National Facility. This division discovered the existence of megagauss magnetic fields in laser-compressed pellets. This division also performs related theoretical calculations to study and explore the nonlinear dynamics and properties of plasmas in inertial fusion and those under the extreme conditions of density (~1000 g/cc), pressure (~1000 gigabar), and field strength (~megagauss). Most recently the division has conducted pioneering nuclear science experiments using high-energy-density plasmas, ushering in a new and exciting field of research, plasma nuclear science, blending the separate disciplines of plasma and nuclear physics.

The Waves and Beams Division conducts experimental and theoretical research on the physical principles of novel sources of high-power, coherent radiation ranging from the microwave to the terahertz region of the electromagnetic spectrum. Current research focuses on the gyrotron (or cyclotron resonance maser), a novel source of millimeter wave and terahertz radiation using high magnetic fields, and on novel forms of the traveling wave tube amplifier. The division also conducts research on novel concepts for high-gradient acceleration of electrons to demonstrate the principles required for future generations of electron linear accelerators. The experimental research utilizes a 25 MeV accelerator to investigate high-gradient acceleration of electrons and coherent radiation by femtosecond electron bunches.

The Fusion Technology and Engineering Division provides critical engineering support to the national fusion energy sciences program for both operating magnetic confinement fusion experiments and advanced fusion design projects. The division has extensive experience in design, analysis, development, and fabrication of advanced high-field copper and superconducting magnet technology. Present research is focused on developing second-generation high-temperature superconductors for high-field, high-current cables for fusion magnets, and for applications of superconducting DC power transmission and distribution. The division is also developing very high-field, compact cyclotron accelerators for applications such as proton radiotherapy for cancer treatment, active detection of strategic nuclear materials for protection against weapons of mass destruction, and variable energy, heavy-ion accelerators for fusion materials research.

As part of the Francis Bitter Magnet Laboratory, the Center for Magnetic Resonance's (CMR) objectives are to develop sophisticated technologies for magnetic resonance in the areas of solution-state nuclear magnetic resonsance (NMR), solid-state NMR, electron paramagnetic resonance (EPR), and dynamic nuclear polarization (DNP); to apply those technologies to biologically and medically significant research, both in-house and collaboratively; to operate a state-of-the-art instrument facility to serve needs of researchers in chemistry, biology, and medicine; and to openly disseminate and provide training in technological developments at the Center.

Many academic departments are affiliated with PSFC, including Physics, Nuclear Science and Engineering, Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, Materials Science and Engineering, Mechanical Engineering, Chemical Engineering, and Aeronautics and Astronautics. The center's programs and laboratories provide excellent forums for training students and professional researchers, and offer world-class research facilities to faculty members from many departments. Forty-one graduate students are currently involved at all levels of thesis work. Undergraduates also can participate through the Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program.

For further information contact the director, Professor Dennis Whyte, Room NW17-288, 617-253-1748.