Undergraduate Student Blog, Speaking of Princeton

Undergraduate Student Blog

Author: Libby Tolman ’15

Norwich, Vermont • Physics View Profile

Field Reversed Configuration Reactors

What I'm doing this summer

This summer, I'm back at Princeton, completing an internship at Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory (PPPL).  One of the main goals of PPPL is to make fusion energy a reality. The mainstream fusion reactor concept is a tokamak, a donut-shaped device that uses twisted circular magnetic fields to confine its plasma so that it can be heated to fusion-relevant energies. While tokamak research is advanced, the machines have the disadvantage of being huge, expensive and immensely technologically complicated.

So this summer I'm working with Samuel Cohen, a professor who researches field reversed configuration reactors (FRCs). An FRC uses a different magnetic field setup than a tokamak, which allows it to be a much smaller and simpler device.

FRC magnetic fields
An image of FRC magnetic fields from the University of Washington, http://depts.washington.edu/rppl/programs/frc_intro.html
 

This simplicity has caused the FRC to attract significant research interest. For example, Tri Alpha Energy and Helion Energy, two private fusion companies, use FRCs as their major reactor concept.  

But FRC research is still young, especially compared with tokamak research, so there is a lot of work to be done. My research this summer involves understanding and optimizing the rotating magnetic fields in the FRC that heat its plasma to temperatures at which fusion can occur. I've only just started my project, but I'm excited for what this summer will bring. Stay tuned for updates!