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Hands on adventures

The last few weeks my workplace was invaded by a pack of fusion master students from the Erasmus Mundus Fusion master program. Their mission was to get an insight in what it's like to work as a fusion scientist. I was helping out with an experiment on the technology behind lower hybrid (LH) current drive, a topic I focused on during my master thesis, that I did here at CEA Cadarache. Momentum transfer to the electrons in the plasma through the LH wave is the most efficient method to drive a current in a tokamak plasma which is absolutely necessary for steady state operation. One of the tasks was to measure and analyze the efficiency of a mode converter, a wave guide structure which converts the radio frequency power from a propagation mode to another in order to split the power of the wave. The other experiment was on the LH launcher, an array of waveguides stacked next to each other coupling the wave power with the plasma.

The students quickly realized that in real life, things are not always as predictive as the theory presented in the lecture hall, especially when it comes to experiments. They had a blast and all said it was a phun and rewarding experience. It was educative for me too, I have done a bit of teaching at my university in the past but this was definitely the first time I was lucky enough (I like challenges) to get only French students which means coaching 100% in French. When my language skills were weak we compensated by communicating the physics with homemade cakes inspired by the experiments, including a vanilla/chocolate mode converter. Anything to inspire the students! At the end of the stay the master students presented their work in front of a jury of real fusion scientists. What an amazing chance to show off your skills (that kills and one day might pay your bills)! I find it impressive that the students get to spend two whole weeks with real experiments, instead of just reading about them. The Erasmus Mundus fusion program is quite unique in that sense. If you apply, see you next year!