UW-Madison engineer named chief scientist for international fusion experiment
A University of Wisconsin-Madison professor will be the liaison between United States plasma- and fusion-science researchers and a group that is building the U.S. share of ITER, an international fusion experiment that eventually could lead to an abundant, economical and environmentally benign energy source. On May 24, 2006, the seven international ITER participants initialed an agreement to construct the experiment.
The U.S. Department of Energy and its ITER Project Office recently named Engineering Physics Professor Raymond Fonck chief scientist for the United States ITER (the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor) Project Office.
In his role as chief scientist, Fonck will help the project office answer scientific questions that arise as the U.S. portion of the project develops. For that, he will don his hat as director of the U.S. Burning Plasma Organization (USBPO) — a national organization of researchers in the fusion community that studies the properties of magnetically confined burning fusion plasmas, the ionized gasses that drive fusion-energy production. “So if there are issues that arise, and they have to be resolved in the design of the device, you engage the science and engineering community here in this country to help answer those questions,” he says.
A project designed to demonstrate the scientific and technological feasibility of fusion power, ITER will be constructed in Cadarache, France, beginning in 2007. It involves researchers from the United States, China, the European Union, India, Japan, the Republic of Korea and the Russian Federation.
Fonck says one of his biggest challenges will be to establish and maintain a communication structure that enables U.S. plasma researchers to interact effectively with the U.S. ITER Project Office and with international fusion researchers. He will help identify U.S. ITER research needs and identify plasma researchers who can help fill those needs.
In addition, he also will help communicate requests from U.S. plasma researchers for activities in the international ITER organization that advance the project's interests. “We want to help make sure the proper capabilities are available when needed to satisfy our — and our partners' — research interests,” says Fonck.
He is among several UW-Madison faculty and staff members involved with ITER and the U.S. Burning Plasma Organization. Researchers in the Fusion Technology Institute are conducting the U.S. share of the ITER neutronics analysis, while Engineering Physics Assistant Professor Dennis Whyte is studying how the plasma affects the reactor's interior wall and is leader of the USBPO plasma-boundary group. Engineering Physics Professor Chris Hegna is a deputy leader of the USBPO stability group and Physics Professor Paul Terry is leader of the USBPO transport group.
At UW-Madison, Fonck will continue to advise students and maintain his own plasma research program. Although his roles as chief scientist for the U.S. ITER Project Office and director of the USBPO are, in his words, a big commitment and responsibility, they also demonstrate UW-Madison researchers' dedication to the future of fusion. “It shows that we're very serious about being deeply involved in this new direction in the fusion program,” he says.