I visited the Princeton Plasma Physics Lab and learned all about their mission to use Fusion (combining the nucleus) as our new energy source.
Firstly, what is fusion? It is when two positively charged nuclei come close enough to chemically bond and form a hydrogen atom. If atoms such as hydrogen fuse together, they can emit energy.
In this project you’re working with plasma (the fourth state of matter), the thing found in the Sun and fluorescent lightbulbs. Therefore, when put into a container, the pressure of the air around the plasma differs compared to the air close to the wall of the container. Therefore, it forms its own gradient, pushing the plasma outwards. However, the electromagnetic forces put on the inside of the vessel are pushing it to the core, where fusion can occur and the plasma can be controlled. If it hit the wall, it’d blow up since the container is heated to over 1,000,000,000 degrees Celsius. This temperature converts the hydrogen gas into hydrogen plasma. The container is made up of lithium, which has a high melting point and isn’t reactive with hydrogen. This idea is based off of the sun utlizing gravity to get the nuclei hot and close enough to begin fusion.
The tokamak (donut shaped, symmetrical fusion reactor) NSTX-U is what the scientists are experimenting with as of now. However, they are also several other initiatives such as the french tokamak: ITER, which can run for 24 hours and can run off of a lot of hydrogen gas at once. This is different to tokamak NSTX-U since it can only run for about 15 minutes and has to continuously get injected with small puffs of air.
So why is it important? Fusion relies on our seawater, since hydrogen isotopes can be found there! Additionally, this would be a huge step in making our planet a cleaner, greener place as we’re changing the way we power our lives. Instead of polluting our air, we would be making a move for the better and reincarnating our planet. The Princeton Plasma Physics Lab seems confident that they will achieve fusion power and we should all be supporting their mission!