A new generation facing the challenges of high power fusion devices
It brought together an audience from all over Europe, Switzerland and the United States. The great success of the course organized this February by five research scientists from the Swiss Plasma Center of EPFL, confirms the growing importance in control solutions in the research towards a fusion reactor.
“This year our audience has more than tripled”, underlines Federico Felici, research scientist at the Swiss Plasma Center (SPC). From February 6th to February 17th 2023, he is with four other lecturers from SPC - Antoine Merle, Cristian Galperti, Alessandro Pau and Holger Reimerdes – teaching a course called Control and Operation of Tokamaks, held on EPFL campus. “In previous years, it was a relatively small class with 15 to 20 people. This time we reached 75 participants!”, points out Federico Felici.
This great interest can be explained by «the leading position of SPC in key areas such as real-time control and disruption avoidance and the various international collaborations many research scientists of SPC have with institutes all around the world», argues Alessandro Pau, postdoctoral researcher at SPC.
The course caters towards engineers that develop solutions of physics problems as well as to physicist that look for control solutions
England, France, Germany, Italy, United States… Although almost half of the audience is from SPC, the majority came from abroad to attend the course. Among them, we find a number of PhD students and postdocs from institutes such as MIT, Princeton, as well as staff in european research labs. A success that reflects the increasing attention the subject is receiving.
“Control is becoming more and more important in the world of fusion research”, Federico Felici says, highlighting the fact we will need more advanced systems for future tokamaks like ITER, and also systems that can control all aspects at the same time: such as the shape of the plasma, its density and pressure. A challenge that requires both engineering and physics knowledge. That’s why the course offers a truly interdisciplinary approach, mixing theory and practice, trough 60 hours of lecture and exercises. «It caters towards engineers that develop solutions of physics problems as well as to physicist that look for control solutions. The course seeks to introduce each discipline to the boundary conditions imposed by the other disciplines», continues Holger Reimerdes, senior scientist at the SPC.
This course really demonstrates a spirit of openness
In addition to its uniqueness, the course is based on one of Swiss Plasma Center’s main field of expertise. “Historically, we have always done a lot of control research on our TCV tokamak. It is a very flexible machine that allows us to do advanced experiments”, indicates Federico Felici.
As one of the four shared facilities in Europe, the TCV tokamak, located on the EPFL campus, is the flagship device of the Swiss Plasma Center. A visit of the tokamak was one of the activities organized around the lectures, allowing people to connect. “Everyone here does very similar work, but they are just in different places. Many of them don’t know each other and had the occasion to network for the first time. It’s a unique opportunity for us as a university to organize such a course, where we can introduce newcomers to the field and all share the results of our research, Federico Felici says. It really demontrates a spirit of openness.»
3 questions to the students
1. What did you find interesting about this course?
2. What did you enjoy the most?
3. What make you enthusiastic about fusion today?
It’s exiting to work on something that might be relevant for humanity
1. I found the course very useful and instructive because we are getting an applied sense to a lot of things. Seeing this course this week helps ground some of the abstract things that we do.
2. It’s enjoyable to be able to interact with some of the research scientists and students here. It’s a way to discover them work and the way they approach things.
3. There are a lot of interesting challenges to work on that you can’t solved without a strong interdisciplinary approach. So it’s exciting to couple all aspects together and be able to work on something that might be relevant for humanity.
Fusion is such a cool problem to try to solve
1. The course has been very good in filling all the gaps because everyone is coming in with different backgrounds, different things they know and don’t know. It’s really touching on every topic in a way that is approachable to everyone.
2. I loved talking to other people. Everyone here is working on different tokamaks around Europe and the US, and hearing all the things they are doing is very interesting.
3. I enjoy that fusion is such a cool problem to try to solve, but also that it requires a group effort because there are so many different things that need to be solved to make fusion happen.
The idea that fusion could one day be part of the energy mix is very stimulating
1. I am part of the control team at the SPC and I do numerical simulation. Therefore, this course is very interesting for me because it is based on the subject I work on: the modeling of plasmas for operations.
2. Thanks to this course, we meet other people, we exchange ideas and we understand that we are not isolated in what we do. It's also nice that at EPFL, we can continue to attend classes even when we're doing a PhD. It helps to step out of our comfort zone and see things from another angle.
3. The idea that fusion could one day be part of the energy mix is very stimulating, but we have to be well aware that it’s a process that takes time.