The Record Features Pedersen's CNT Experiment
Right here in the Plasma Physics Laboratory is a machine committed to developing a commercially viable way to use nuclear fusion for energy.
The machine, known as the stellarator, confines electrons for an extended time, allowing scientists to conduct tightly controlled experiments. Thomas Sunn Pedersen, in the department of applied physics, designed and oversaw its construction in 2004.
Although the sun and stars are fusion reactors, the production of useful controlled fusion on earth has not yet been achieved, despite decades of effort. One of the hurdles is in confining the plasma long enough for appreciable fusion to occur.
Pedersen says recent results show that more than 100 billion electrons can be confined in the Columbia Non-Neutral Torus experiment under way using the stellarator. Ordinarily, such a cloud of electrons suspended in a vacuum would fly apart in a fraction of a microsecond.
Pedersen says this is only the beginning. “As we get to understand these plasmas better, we expect to increase the confinement time in the stellarator by at least another factor of a hundred,” he says.
For his vision and work in plasma physics, Pedersen has received the National Science Foundation’s most prestigious award to the early career-development activities of teacher-scholars who most effectively integrate research and education with the mission of their organization.The $800,000 award will be allocated over five years and begins this month.