Scientists from Princeton and DoE inch closer to nuclear fusion

Although researchers have been able to better understand why synapses in a plasma field snaps and reconnect, a few answers are still playing hard to get. A more complete understanding could result in possibly the world’s first nuclear fusion reactor.

In a historic development of monumental proportions, researchers from Princeton University and from the U.S. Department of Energy (DoE) have come up with a new theory which can help explain solar flares and fusion power.

Current research on fusion power has been focused on creating “magnetic confinement” reactors which use very powerful magnets in order to fuse hydrogen plasma into helium. The Achilles heel of this technique is that the plasma that is generated, spawns new magnetic fields, which play havoc with the reactions.

Since Plasma typically contains charged particles which generate magnetic fields, they can at times break apart dramatically, in a process known as magnetic reconnection.

These magnetic reconnections are what causes solar flares and cosmic ray bursts a result of which are the northern lights.

Conventional physics is unable to explain why these magnetic fields snap and reconnect. These magnetic reconnections are especially irksome inside the Tokamak magnetic confinement reactors, since the magnetic fields created by the plasma can shift suddenly and thus break the external fields which hold the plasma together and thus reduce the forces required to sustain the reaction.

To get to this problem, the researchers examined a “plasmoid instability,” an apparatus which causes two-dimensional magnetic sheets to thin down into smaller “islands.” When the sheet breaks down to a particular size, “the plasmoid instability occurs on a short time scale, leading to explosive growth of the plasmoids,” states their research paper. This explosive growth causes the fields to reform in a different orientation and in turn causes solar flares and related phenomena.

The researchers are now examining why the plasma breaks down into small isles, as this seems to defy the “power laws” of physics.

Nevertheless, this monumental work can now potentially help scientists better predict solar flares and such violent naturally occurring activities. More importantly and significantly for us, it could lead to better models of magnetic fields created by plasma inside Tokamak fusion reactors. Once that is under our belt, our energy crisis will pretty much be solved.

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