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William Iliffe - Internship visit to MIT

Internship visit to the PSFC at MIT in June/July 2015
Report by William Iliffe. Powered by FuseNet

Nuclear fusion is a natural process - it produces the light and heat of stars. Harnessing the energy released from fusion reactions would result in a virtually carbon-neutral energy source that has the ability to turn water into electrical energy. Tremendous progress has been made since the original fusion machines were conceived in the 1950s and in the last decade the research issues have shifted away from the physics and more towards solving the engineering problems.

I am current undertaking a 2-month internship at the Plasma Science and Fusion Centre (PSFC) at MIT in Boston.  The purpose of my visit is to undertake a research project into the cooling of plasma facing components in the conceptual tokamak design known as ARC. The ARC reactor was developed by graduate students here at the PSFC under the supervision of Prof. Dennis White, the center’s director. ARC makes use of many innovative improvements such as high-temperature superconductors and demountable toroidal field coils to name just two but my focus is on ARC’s use of the molten salt FLIBE to cool its plasma facing components. FLIBE is mixture of LiF and BeF, melts at 500 ⁰C and it is fluid FLIBE that will be used to cool the ARC’s divertor targets. During operation, these targets are subjected to some of the largest steady-state heat loads ever recorded – roughly twice that on the space shuttle during reentry – and cooling them is a complex technical challenge. The 3D printing of metals is a technology that is progressing fast with more and more metals being added to the list of printable materials. This will allow more complex geometries for PFCs to be manufactured with relative ease. During my time at the PSFC, I hope to determine what some of these FLIBE-cooled, 3D-printed PFCs may look like.

Moving away from the work side of my stay, Boston is a great place to visit with a lot going on. The perks of being attached to MIT are worth their weight in gold with a great sport center and, my personal favorite, access to the MIT sailing club on the Charles River – a great way to unwind after a day in front of a computer screen!