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Levitating magnet brings space physics to fusion

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n2doc Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Mon Jan-25-10 09:01 AM
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Levitating magnet brings space physics to fusion
Tests on an experimental machine that mimics a planets magnetic field show that it may offer an alternative path to taming nuclear fusion for power generation.
David L. Chandler, MIT News Office

A new experiment that reproduces the magnetic fields of the Earth and other planets has yielded its first significant results. The findings confirm that its unique approach has some potential to be developed as a new way of creating a power-producing plant based on nuclear fusion the process that generates the suns prodigious output of energy.

Fusion has been a cherished goal of physicists and energy researchers for more than 50 years. Thats because it offers the possibility of nearly endless supplies of energy with no carbon emissions and far less radioactive waste than that produced by todays nuclear plants, which are based on fission, the splitting of atoms (the opposite of fusion, which involves fusing two atoms together). But developing a fusion reactor that produces a net output of energy has proved to be more challenging than initially thought.

The new results come from an experimental fusion reactor at the Plasma Science and Fusion Center on the MIT campus, inspired by observations from space made by satellites. Called the Levitated Dipole Experiment, or LDX, a joint project of MIT and Columbia University, it uses a half-ton donut-shaped magnet about the size and shape of a large truck tire, made of superconducting wire coiled inside a stainless steel vessel. This magnet is suspended by a powerful electromagnetic field, and is used to control the motion of the 10-million-degree-hot electrically charged gas, or plasma, contained within its 16-foot-diameter outer chamber.

The results, published this week in the journal Nature Physics, confirm the counter-intuitive prediction that inside the devices magnetic chamber, random turbulence causes the plasma to become more densely concentrated a crucial step to getting atoms to fuse together instead of becoming more spread out, as usually happens with turbulence. This turbulent pinching of the plasma has been observed in the way plasmas in space interact with the Earths and Jupiters magnetic fields, but has never before been recreated in the laboratory.

more:

http://web.mit.edu/newsoffice/2010/fusion-ldx-0125.html
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