Fonck to lead U.S. burning plasma effort
he U.S. Department of Energy Office of Fusion Energy Sciences has named Steenbock Professor Ray Fonck head of a group that will rally burning-plasma researchers around the country. With plans progressing for ITER (the international thermonuclear experimental reactor), the U.S. Burning Plasma Organization will establish and coordinate teams of American scientists to work in burning-plasma research areas of focus, says Fonck. In addition, it will position those scientists to compete for research time at the international level.
“What we want to do is bring those topics that are most important to the burning-plasma front to the fore so that these things get run time and people work together on them,” he says. “Looking forward 10 years, maybe 12 years downstream, we need coordinated teams from the U.S. to vie for experimental time on ITER.”
The U.S. share of ITER’s construction cost will be about $1 billion. Not only will the
new organization involve and integrate researchers from around the country, but it also demonstrates the
country’s commitment to and scientific ownership of burning-plasma research, says Fonck.
ITER’s U.S. project office is housed at Princeton University, where researchers will engineer
and construct the country’s portion of the reactor. Often, says Fonck, the office receives requests
from the international ITER office that U.S. researchers address certain scientific topics. “And so the project office would then come to us as the scientific organization and say, ‘We need to have this addressed,’” says Fonck. “And so in that sense, a big part of our agenda would be supporting the ITER project and responding to its scientific requests. But we’re trying to make it more than that — that the U.S. come up with its own ideas beyond what the ITER project needs.”
Later this summer, Fonck will meet with an advisory board to set the group’s direction, although a general vision already is in place. The organization probably will have divisions, broken into scientific topic areas — for example, study of MHD instabilities in burning plasmas. Each topic area might have a team leader who would organize research on the topic, suggest directions, and bid for time on the national experiments. Communication, via everything from face-to-face meetings to videoconferences, throughout the organizational structure will be important, “so that we can identify the highest-priority activities and then relay that judgment from the scientific community to the funding agencies,”
The result, he says, will be a virtual
laboratory of burning-plasma scientists working toward common goals.