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University of Wisconsin engineer to head DOE fusion energy office

The U.S. Department of Energy has named a University of Wisconsin-Madison engineering professor to lead its Office of Fusion Energy Science (OFES), located within the DOE Office of Science. The OFES oversees United States research in fusion energy, plasma physics and high-energy-density physics.

Steenbock Professor of Engineering Physics Raymond Fonck will formally assume the role of OFES associate director on March 1.

Fonck will direct a large portion of his efforts toward ITER, a seven-member international project designed to demonstrate the scientific and technological feasibility of fusion power. Preparation of the construction site in Cadarache, France, began in early 2007.

The international experiment presents U.S. fusion researchers with exciting domestic opportunities that parallel ITER, says Fonck. “The responsibility of the Office of Fusion Energy Science is to work with the fusion community to guide that research and to maintain a competitive edge as we head into a new era,” he says.

A major funding agency for basic plasma physics research in the United States, the office also directs a wide range of research activities on domestic magnetic fusion facilities. It supports large programs in theory and computation to support the development of fusion energy science and is one of the U.S. agencies that supports the emerging field of high-energy-density physics.

As head of OFES, Fonck will initiate discussions that eventually will guide U.S. fusion research priorities—among which are basic plasma physics and science. “It’s those possibilities and the excitement of trying to sort it out that makes it a challenge,” he says. “We think we can really make a difference.”

Fonck will take a research leave of absence from UW-Madison, where he directs the Pegasus Plasma Experiment, the third-largest fusion-research experiment of its kind in the world. A low-aspect-ratio toroidal fusion experiment, the Pegasus Plasma Experiment tests basic theoretical ideas about magnetic confinement geometry and the ability to confine plasmas at very high pressure.

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2/28/2007