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Assistant Professor Arijit Bose is a new member of the University
of Delaware’s Department of Physics and Astronomy. He has a grant from
the Sandia National Lab to study inertial confinement fusion which uses
magnetized pressure to produce nuclear fusion.
Imagine trying to summon the sun to your research laboratory.
Yes, you, big bright star! Bring your searing heat, the drama of your
core’s constant nuclear fusion and your off-the-charts energy levels
with you. We want to know how to make this fusion energy happen here on
Earth — at will and efficiently — so we can cross “energy supply” off
our list of worries forever.
But, of course, the sun can’t actually get to the lab. It lives too
far away — some 93 million miles — and it is way too big (about 864,000
miles in diameter). It’s also way too hot and denser than anything on
Earth. That’s why it can sustain the reactions that generate all the
energy that powers life on Earth.
This has not discouraged scientists from pursuing their quest for nuclear fusion, of course.
Instead, they have found extraordinary ways — using intense lasers
and hydrogen fuel — to produce extreme conditions like those that exist
in the sun’s core, producing nuclear fusion in tiny 1 millimeter plastic
capsules. This approach is called “inertial confinement fusion.”
The challenge is to create a system that generates more fusion energy than is required to create it.
This is exceptionally challenging because it requires high-precision
experiments at extreme conditions, but researchers have made major
advances in the science and technology required to produce controlled
laboratory fusion in recent decades.
Now University of Delaware researcher Arijit Bose and his
collaborators are pursuing a promising variation of this approach. Their
work was published recently in Physical Review Letters.
They have applied powerful magnetic fields to the laser-driven
implosion, which may allow them to steer fusion reactions in ways
previously unexplored in experiments.
Move this whole section up, swapping places with the section above it.
Bose, an assistant professor in UD’s
Department of Physics and Astronomy, started his study of nuclear fusion
during graduate school at the University of Rochester.
After touring the Laboratory for Laser Energetics at Rochester, where
lasers are used to implode spherical capsules and create plasmas, known
as “inertial confinement fusion,” he found a focus for his own
“Fusion is what powers everything on Earth,” he said. “To have a
miniature sun on Earth — a millimeter-sized sun — that’s where the
fusion reaction would happen. And that blew my mind.”
Laser-driven nuclear fusion research has been around for decades, Bose said.
It started at Lawrence Livermore National Lab in the 1970’s.
Livermore now hosts the largest laser system in the world, the size of
three football fields. The fusion research done there uses an indirect
approach. Lasers are directed into a small 100-millimeter-sized can of
gold. They hit the inner surface of the can and produce X-rays, which
then hit the target — a tiny sphere made of frozen deuterium and tritium
— and heat it to temperatures near the core of the sun.
“Nothing can survive that,” Bose said. “Electrons are stripped from
the atoms and the ions are moving so fast that they collide and fuse.”
The target implodes within a nanosecond — a billionth of a second —
first driven by the laser, then continuing to compress on its own
inertia. Finally, it expands because of the increasing central pressure
caused by the compression.
“Getting a self-heated fusion chain reaction to start is called
ignition,” Bose said. “We are remarkably close to achieving ignition.”
Researchers at Livermore reported impressive new gains in that effort on Aug. 8.
Rochester’s OMEGA laser facility is smaller and is used to test a
direct-drive approach. That process uses no gold can. Instead, lasers
hit the target sphere directly.
The new piece is the powerful magnetic field — in this case, forces
up to 50 Tesla — that is used to control the charged particles. By
comparison, typical magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) uses magnets of
about 3 Tesla. And the magnetic field that shields the Earth from the
solar wind is many orders of magnitude smaller than 50T, Bose said.
“You want the nuclei to fuse,” Bose said. “The magnetic fields trap
the charged particles and make them go around the field lines. That
helps create collisions and that helps boost fusion. That’s why adding
magnetic fields has benefits for producing fusion energy.”
Fusion requires extreme conditions, but it has been achieved, Bose
said. The challenge is getting more energy output than input and the
magnetic fields provide the push that can make this approach
The experiments published in Physical Review Letters were done when
Bose was doing postdoctoral research at MIT’s Plasma Science and Fusion
Center. That collaboration continues.
Bose said he was drawn to the University of Delaware, in part, because of the plasma physics focus in the Department of Physics and Astronomy, including William Matthaeus, Michael Shay and Ben Maruca.
“They do studies and analysis of data coming from the NASA solar
program and all its missions,” he said. “We conduct laboratory
astrophysics experiments where these phenomena are scaled down in space
and time to the lab. This gives us a means to unravel some of the
intricate physics questions posed by NASA missions.”
Students are important drivers of this work, Bose said, and their careers can see great advancement in this new field of study.
“It is a fascinating part of science and students are a very
important part of workforce development for the national labs,” he said.
“Students experienced in this science and technology often end up as
scientists and researchers at the national labs.”
There is much more work to do, he said.
“We won’t have a solution tomorrow. But what we’re doing is contributing to a solution for clean energy.”
Arijit Bose is an assistant professor in the University of Delaware’s
Department of Physics and Astronomy. He earned his bachelor of science
degree in physics at the Chennai Mathematical Institute in India and his
doctorate at the University of Rochester. He did postdoctoral research
at the University of Michigan and at the Massachusetts Institute of
Technology’s (MIT) Plasma Science and Fusion Center before joining UD’s
faculty in 2021. His research focuses on plasma, nuclear fusion and
astrophysics. He is among the faculty affiliated with UD’s Data Science
Article by Beth Miller; Photo by Kathy F. Atkinson
Published August 11, 2022