DOE News
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    The DOE Science News Source is a Newswise initiative to promote research news from the Office of Science of the DOE to the public and news media.
    • 2015-05-20 09:05:00
    • Article ID: 634577

    A Little Drop Will Do It: Tiny Grains of Lithium Can Dramatically Improve the Performance of Fusion Plasmas

    Scientists from General Atomics and the U.S. Department of Energy's (DOE) Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory (PPPL) have discovered a phenomenon that helps them to improve fusion plasmas, a finding that may quicken the development of fusion energy. Together with a team of researchers from across the United States, the scientists found that when they injected tiny grains of lithium into a plasma undergoing a particular kind of turbulence then, under the right conditions, the temperature and pressure rose dramatically. High heat and pressure are crucial to fusion, a process in which atomic nuclei – or ions – smash together and release energy — making even a brief rise in pressure of great importance for the development of fusion energy.

    "These findings might be a step towards creating our ultimate goal of steady-state fusion, which would last not just for milliseconds, but indefinitely," said Tom Osborne, a physicist at General Atomics and lead author of the paper. This work was supported by the DOE Office of Science (Office of Fusion Energy Sciences).

    The scientists used a device developed at PPPL to inject grains of lithium measuring some 45 millionths of a meter in diameter into a plasma in the DIII-D National Fusion Facility – or tokamak – that General Atomics operates for DOE in San Diego. When the lithium was injected while the plasma was relatively calm, the plasma remained basically unaltered. Yet as reported this month in a paper in Nuclear Fusion, when the plasma was undergoing a kind of turbulence known as a "bursty chirping mode," the injection of lithium doubled the pressure at the outer edge of the plasma. In addition, the length of time that the plasma remained at high pressure rose by more than a factor of 10.

    Experiments have sustained this enhanced state for up to one-third of a second. A key scientific objective will be to extend this enhanced performance for the full duration of a plasma discharge.

    Physicists have long known that adding lithium to a fusion plasma increases its performance. The new findings surprised researchers, however, since the small amount of lithium raised the plasma's temperature and pressure more than had been expected.

    These results "could represent the birth of a new tool for influencing or perhaps controlling tokamak edge physics," said Dennis Mansfield, a physicist at PPPL and a coauthor of the paper who helped develop the injection device called a "lithium dropper." Also working on the experiments were researchers from Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, Oak Ridge National Laboratory, the University of Wisconsin-Madison and the University of California-San Diego.

    Conditions at the edge of the plasma have a profound effect on the superhot core of the plasma where fusion reactions take place. Increasing pressure at the edge region raises the pressure of the plasma as a whole. And the greater the plasma pressure, the more suitable conditions are for fusion reactions. "Making small changes at the plasma's edge lets us increase the pressure further within the plasma," said Rajesh Maingi, manager of edge physics and plasma-facing components at PPPL and a coauthor of the paper.

    Further experiments will test whether the lithium's interaction with the bursty chirping modes – so-called because the turbulence occurs in pulses and involves sudden changes in pitch – caused the unexpectedly strong overall effect.

    PPPL, on Princeton University's Forrestal Campus in Plainsboro, N.J., is devoted to creating new knowledge about the physics of plasmas — ultra-hot, charged gases — and to developing practical solutions for the creation of fusion energy. Results of PPPL research have ranged from a portable nuclear materials detector for anti-terrorist use to universally employed computer codes for analyzing and predicting the outcome of fusion experiments. The Laboratory is managed by the University for the U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Science, which is the largest single supporter of basic research in the physical sciences in the United States, and is working to address some of the most pressing challenges of our time. For more information, please visit science.energy.gov.

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    Improving Isotope Supply for a Cancer-Fighting Drug

    Improving Isotope Supply for a Cancer-Fighting Drug

    Production of actinium-227 ramps up for use in a drug to fight prostate cancer that has spread to bone.

    Extracting Signs of the Elusive Neutrino

    Extracting Signs of the Elusive Neutrino

    Scientists use software to "develop" images that trace neutrinos' interactions in a bath of cold liquid argon.

    Machine learning speeds modeling of experiments aimed at capturing fusion energy on Earth to rapidly predict behavior of plasma that fuels fusion reactions

    Machine learning speeds modeling of experiments aimed at capturing fusion energy on Earth to rapidly predict behavior of plasma that fuels fusion reactions

    Release describes application of machine learning form of artificial intelligence to predict the behavior of fusion plasma.

    Record-shattering underwater sound

    Record-shattering underwater sound

    A team of researchers has produced a record-shattering underwater sound with an intensity that eclipses that of a rocket launch. The intensity was equivalent to directing the electrical power of an entire city onto a single square meter, resulting in sound pressures above 270 decibels.

    CosmoGAN: Training a Neural Network to Study Dark Matter

    CosmoGAN: Training a Neural Network to Study Dark Matter

    A Berkeley Lab-led research group is using a deep learning method known as generative adversarial networks to enhance the use of gravitational lensing in the study of dark matter.

    Breakthrough Technique for Studying Gene Expression Takes Root in Plants

    Breakthrough Technique for Studying Gene Expression Takes Root in Plants

    An open-source RNA analysis platform has been successfully used on plant cells for the first time - an advance that could herald a new era of fundamental research and bolster efforts to engineer more efficient food and biofuel crop plants. The technology, called Drop-seq, is a method for measuring the RNA present in individual cells, allowing scientists to see what genes are being expressed and how this relates to the specific functions of different cell types.

    Bio-inspired material targets oceans' uranium stores for sustainable nuclear energy

    Bio-inspired material targets oceans' uranium stores for sustainable nuclear energy

    Scientists have demonstrated a new bio-inspired material for an eco-friendly and cost-effective approach to recovering uranium from seawater. The low-cost polymer adsorbent could help push past bottlenecks in the cost and efficiency of extracting uranium resources from oceans for sustainable energy production.

    Study Concludes Glassy Menagerie of Particles in Beach Sands Near Hiroshima is Fallout Debris from A-Bomb Blast

    Study Concludes Glassy Menagerie of Particles in Beach Sands Near Hiroshima is Fallout Debris from A-Bomb Blast

    A years-long study that involved scientists and experiments at Berkeley Lab and UC Berkeley concluded that an odd assortment of particles found in beach sands in Japan are most likely fallout debris from the 1945 Hiroshima A-bomb blast.

    New technique merging sound and math could help prevent plasma disruptions in fusion facilities

    New technique merging sound and math could help prevent plasma disruptions in fusion facilities

    Scientists have created a novel method for measuring the stability of plasma in fusion facilities called "tokamaks." Involving an innovative use of a mathematical tool, the method might lead to a technique for stabilizing plasma and making fusion reactions more efficient.

    2D insulators with ferromagnetic properties are rare; researchers just identified a new one

    2D insulators with ferromagnetic properties are rare; researchers just identified a new one

    Collaborating scientists at the U.S. Department of Energy's Ames Laboratory, Brookhaven National Laboratory, and Princeton University have discovered a new layered ferromagnetic semiconductor, a rare type of material that holds great promise for next-generation electronic technologies.


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    Cryogenics equipment maker licenses ORNL auto-fill method for more efficient liquid helium use

    Cryogenics equipment maker licenses ORNL auto-fill method for more efficient liquid helium use

    Advanced Research Systems has licensed an ORNL technology designed to automatically refill liquid helium used in laboratory equipment for low-temperature scientific experiments, which will reduce downtime, recover more helium and increase overall efficiency.

    New Argonne coating could have big implications for lithium batteries

    New Argonne coating could have big implications for lithium batteries

    In a new discovery, scientists at the U.S. Department of Energy's (DOE) Argonne National Laboratory have developed a new cathode coating by using an oxidative chemical vapor deposition technique. The new coating can keep the battery's cathode electrically and ionically conductive and ensures that the battery stays safe after many cycles.

    Argonne's Chain Reaction Innovations appoints first advisory council

    Argonne's Chain Reaction Innovations appoints first advisory council

    World-class energy leaders will offer their expertise to Chain Reaction Innovations (CRI), the entrepreneurship program at the U.S. Department of Energy's Argonne National Laboratory, as part of a new Advisory Council announced today. CRI has named 14 Advisory Council members, including investors, industry experts and business executives, to help guide its growth and strategy.

    ORNL, Lincoln Electric to Advance Large-Scale Metal Additive Manufacturing Technology

    ORNL, Lincoln Electric to Advance Large-Scale Metal Additive Manufacturing Technology

    The new agreement builds upon ORNL and Lincoln Electric's previous developments by extending additive technology to new materials, leveraging data analytics and enabling rapid manufacture of metal components in excess of 100 pounds per hour.

    Students from Minnesota and Massachusetts Win DOE's 29th National Science Bowl(r)

    Students from Wayzata High School in Plymouth, Minnesota, won the 2019 U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) National Science Bowl(r) (NSB) today in Washington, D.C. In the middle school competition, students from Jonas Clarke Middle School in Lexington, Massachusetts, took home first place.

    Five new innovators join Chain Reaction Innovations in third cohort

    Five new innovators join Chain Reaction Innovations in third cohort

    Five new innovators will be joining Chain Reaction Innovations (CRI), the entrepreneurship program at the U.S. Department of Energy's (DOE's) Argonne National Laboratory, as part of the elite program's third cohort. Announced on Monday, April 22, these innovators were selected following an extensive national solicitation process and two-part pitch competition, with reviews from industry experts, investors, scientists and engineers.

    Department of Energy Announces $20 Million for Artificial Intelligence Research

    Today, the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) announced a total of $20 million in funding for innovative research and development in artificial intelligence (A.I.) and machine learning.

    Tim Knewitz named Argonne National Laboratory's Chief Financial Officer

    Tim Knewitz named Argonne National Laboratory's Chief Financial Officer

    The U.S. Department of Energy's Argonne National Laboratory has named Tim Knewitz at its Chief Financial Officer.

    Department of Energy Announces $95 Million for Small Business Research and Development Grants

    U.S. Energy Secretary Rick Perry today announced that the Department of Energy will award 86 grants totaling $95 million to 74 small businesses in 21 states.

    DOE's Science Graduate Student Research Program Selects 70 Students to Pursue Research at DOE Laboratories

    The Department of Energy's (DOE's) Office of Science has selected 70 graduate students from across the nation for its 2018 Solicitation 2 cycle for Office of Science Graduate Student Research (SCGSR) Program.


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    Improving Isotope Supply for a Cancer-Fighting Drug

    Improving Isotope Supply for a Cancer-Fighting Drug

    Production of actinium-227 ramps up for use in a drug to fight prostate cancer that has spread to bone.

    Extracting Signs of the Elusive Neutrino

    Extracting Signs of the Elusive Neutrino

    Scientists use software to "develop" images that trace neutrinos' interactions in a bath of cold liquid argon.

    Slow Charge Generation Plays Big Role in Model Material for Solar Cells

    Slow Charge Generation Plays Big Role in Model Material for Solar Cells

    Insight about energy flow in copper-based material could aid in creating efficient molecular electronics.

    Capturing Energy Flow in a Plasma by Measuring Scattered Light

    Capturing Energy Flow in a Plasma by Measuring Scattered Light

    First measurements of heat flux in plasmas experientially sheds light on models relying on classical thermal transport.

    Artificial Intelligence and Deep Learning Accelerate Efforts to Develop Clean, Virtually Limitless Fusion Energy

    Artificial Intelligence and Deep Learning Accelerate Efforts to Develop Clean, Virtually Limitless Fusion Energy

    The Fusion Recurrent Neural Network reliably forecasts disruptive and destructive events in tokamaks.

    Spin Flipper Upends Protons

    Spin Flipper Upends Protons

    The spin direction of protons was reversed, for the first time, using a nine-magnet device, potentially helping tease out details about protons that affect medical imaging and more.

    Splitting Water Fast! Catalyst Works Faster than Mother Nature

    Splitting Water Fast! Catalyst Works Faster than Mother Nature

    Design principles lead to a catalyst that splits water in a low pH environment, vital for generating solar fuels.

    Sea Quark Spin Surprise!

    Sea Quark Spin Surprise!

    Antiquark spin contribution to proton spin depends on flavor, which could help unlock secrets about the nuclear structure of atoms that make up nearly all visible matter in our universe.

    The Weak Side of the Proton

    The Weak Side of the Proton

    A precision measurement of the proton's weak charge narrows the search for new physics.

    Fast-Moving Pairs May Solve 35-Year-Old Mystery

    Fast-Moving Pairs May Solve 35-Year-Old Mystery

    Physicists develop a universal mathematical description that suggests that proton-neutron pairs in a nucleus may explain why their associated quarks have lower average momenta than predicted.


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