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  • 2018-01-08 10:05:43
  • Article ID: 687590

Ten Stories in 2017 You May Have Missed, Plus a Bonus

  • Credit: Elle Starkman/PPPL Office of Communications

    10 PPPL stories, plus bonus, readers may have missed in 2017.

  • Credit: Elle Starkman/PPPL Office of Communications

    10 PPPL stories, plus bonus, readers may have missed in 2017.

Throughout 2017 researchers at the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory (PPPL) have produced new insights into the science of fusion energy that powers the sun and stars and the physics of plasma, the hot, charged state of matter that consists of electrons and atomic nuclei, or ions, and makes up 99 percent of the visible universe. The research advances the development of fusion as a safe, clean and plentiful source of power, produced in doughnut-shaped facilities called tokamaks, and explores the diverse aspects and applications of plasma. The findings range from a breakthrough for stabilizing fusion plasmas to good news for the international ITER project going up in France to new thoughts about the chances of life on planets circling nearby stars. Here, in no particular order, are 10 not-to-be-missed PPPL stories — plus a bonus story ­— that appeared in 2017.

1. Improving fusion power plants. Future facilities that produce fusion energy must operate in a steady state, or constant, manner 24 hours a day. At PPPL, physicist Masayuki Ono, in collaboration with research centers in the United States and Japan, has proposed an innovative solution to the steady state problem. His design calls for loops of liquid lithium to clean and recycle tritium, a key fusion fuel ingredient, while protecting tokamak components that exhaust waste heat, and cleaning dust and other impurities from the tokamak — all at the same time.

2. Bringing solar eruptions down to Earth.Using lasers, researchers led by PPPL physicist Will Fox have created conditions on Earth that mimic astrophysical behavior. The lasers generate plasmas that shed light on cosmic bursts of subatomic particles that give rise to solar eruptions and solar flares and accelerate cosmic rays to near the speed of light. Subsequent computer simulations have agreed well with the breakthrough laboratory experiments.

3. Good news for ITER. New findings led by C.S. Chang of PPPL show that ITER, the international fusion experiment under construction in France, should be able to withstand the enormous heat load that will strike the divertor plates that exhaust waste heat from the facility. Results of the two-year collaboration with seven U.S. and European institutions found that the load, which will be comparable to the heat that spacecraft experience when re-entering the Earth’s atmosphere, will be wide enough for the divertor to tolerate. Previous estimates drawn from existing tokamaks had suggested that the heat could be so narrow and concentrated as to the damage the divertor.

4. The blob that ate the tokamak.  Like bubbles that rise in boiling water, blobs that percolate in the plasma inside fusion devices known as tokamaks can cause heat to escape from the devices.  PPPL scientists led by Michael Churchill performed computer simulations that have produced a fuller and more fundamental picture of the behavior of blobs, providing new insight into how to control them.

5. Shock waves of the new.Supersonic shock waves propel astrophysical processes such as supernova particles to velocities that approach the speed of light. Scientists led by Derek Schaeffer of PPPL and Princeton have for the first time reproduced such shocks in a laboratory setting, enabling study of the puzzling processes with greater flexibility and control than can be done in space.

6. Growing microscopic particles that are stronger than steel.Research at the PPPL Laboratory for Plasma Nanosynthesis develops new insight into the use of plasma to synthesize nanomaterials — particles such as carbon nanotubes that are measured in billionths of a meter, are found in everything from swimwear to electrodes and have a tensile strength, or resistance to breaking when stretched, that is stronger than steel. PPPL collaborations with physicists at Princeton University and the State University of New York at Stony Brook have now uncovered a method for speeding the growth of nanoparticles — a step toward understanding, predicting and controlling the synthesis of plasma to produce the prized material.

7. Stabilizing next-generation fusion plasmas.In a potentially major advance, physicists at PPPL and the DIII-D National Fusion Facility that General Atomics operates for the DOE have discovered a way to reduce the loss of heat and particles from fusion plasmas. A combination of PPPL modeling led by physicist Gerrit Kramer and DIII-D experiments has found that broadening the electric current in the center of plasma could reduce the loss of crucial elements called alpha particles that heat the plasma and sustain fusion reactions.

8. A quick and easy way to shut down plasma instabilities.A wave-like disturbance that commonly occurs in fusion plasmas can halt fusion reactions and damage the walls of tokamaks that house the fusion process. PPPL physicist Eric Fredrickson recently found that such disturbances can be suppressed on the National Spherical Torus Experiment-Upgrade at the Laboratory with particles from a second neutral beam injector installed in the upgrade — a remarkably simple solution. The results validated predictions of a computer code developed by PPPL physicist Elena Belova and marked good news for the future of fusion.

9. The impact of recycling on plasma turbulence.Researchers have long wondered how atoms recycled from the walls of tokamaks that house fusion reactions affect turbulence, the random fluctuation of plasma that can cause heat and particle loss. In the first basic-physics attempt to study the impact, PPPL physicist Daren Stotler, working under PPPL’s C.S. Chang, used an extreme-scale computer code to model how the recycled neutral atoms tend to increase turbulence in detail that had never before been possible. Further research could improve understanding of the likely performance of plasma in the huge ITER tokamak, where recycling may differ from what is observed in current tokamaks.

10. Self-extinguishing troublesome bursts in fusion plasmas.  Instabilities called Edge Localized Modes (ELMs) frequently arise in highly confined fusion plasma and could damage tokamak components and halt fusion reactions. PPPL physicist Fatima Ebrahimi has for the first time used advanced models to simulate the cyclic behavior of these instabilities, creating insight into how to curtail or prevent them in future tokamaks. The simulations agree with observations of the cyclic behavior of ELMs in tokamaks around the world.

And now, a bonus story you should not miss from 2017:

11. Life on exoplanets. Astrophysicst Chuanfei Dong of PPPL and Princeton University has led collaborative research that casts doubt about the chances of life on planets that orbit stars beyond the solar system. The space physicists noted that the stellar wind that blows from stars could deplete the atmosphere of such planets over hundreds of millions of years, eliminating liquid water that is vital for life as we know it.

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. 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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Columbia Researchers Squeeze Light into Nanoscale Devices and Circuits

Columbia investigators have made a major breakthrough in nanophotonics research, with their invention of a novel "home-built" cryogenic near-field optical microscope that has enabled them to directly image, for the first time, the propagation and dynamics of graphene plasmons at variable temperatures down to negative 250 degrees Celsius. If researchers can harness this nanolight, they will be able to improve sensing, subwavelength waveguiding, and optical transmission of signals.

Self-Assembling 3D Battery Would Charge in Seconds

A cross-campus collaboration led by Ulrich Wiesner, professor of engineering at Cornell University, has resulted in a novel energy storage device architecture that has the potential for lightning-quick charges for electronic devices.

Understanding the Generation of Light-Induced Electrical Current in Atomically Thin Nanomaterials

Scientists added an imaging capability to Brookhaven Lab's Center for Functional Nanomaterials that could provide the optoelectronic information needed to improve the performance of devices for power generation, communications, data storage, and lighting.

Diamond 'Spin-Off' Tech Could Lead to Low-Cost Medical Imaging and Drug Discovery Tools

An international team led by scientists at Berkeley Lab and UC Berkeley discovered how to exploit defects in nanoscale and microscale diamonds and potentially enhance the sensitivity of magnetic resonance imaging and nuclear magnetic resonance systems while eliminating the need for their costly and bulky superconducting magnets.

PROSPECTing For Antineutrinos

The Precision Reactor Oscillation and Spectrum Experiment (PROSPECT) has completed installation of a novel antineutrino detector that will probe the possible existence of a new form of matter - sterile neutrinos.

How to Cope with Cases of Mistaken Identity: MINERvA's Tale of Pions and Neutrinos

Neutral pion production is a major character in a story of mistaken identity worthy of an Agatha Christie novel.

Perfecting the Noise-Canceling Neutrino Detector

MicroBooNE neutrino experiment cuts through the noise, clearing the way for signals made by the hard-to-detect particle.

Supersonic Waves May Help Electronics Beat the Heat

Researchers at the Department of Energy's Oak Ridge National Laboratory made the first observations of waves of atomic rearrangements, known as phasons, propagating supersonically through a vibrating crystal lattice--a discovery that may dramatically improve heat transport in insulators and enable new strategies for heat management in future electronics devices.

Riding Bacterium to the Bank

Jet fuel, pantyhose and plastic soda bottles are all products currently derived from petroleum. Sandia National Laboratories scientists have demonstrated a new technology based on bioengineered bacteria that makes it feasible to produce all three from renewable plant sources.

Flexible, Highly Efficient Multimodal Energy Harvesting

A piezoelectric ceramic foam supported by a flexible polymer support provides a 10-fold increase in the ability to harvest mechanical and thermal energy over standard piezo composites, according to Penn State researchers.


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Power to the People

The University of Utah College of Engineering has received a $2 million grant to create a laboratory and develop new technology for communities with backup power sources, known as microgrids, so they can quickly and more securely operate in the event of a massive power outage due to a natural disaster or cyberattack.

The U. S. Department of Energy Announces $34 Million for Small Business Research and Development Grants

U.S. Energy Secretary Rick Perry announced that the Department of Energy will award 219 grants totaling $34 million to 183 small businesses in 41 states. Funded through DOE's Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) and Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) programs, today's selections are for Phase I research and development.

Raising the Heat to Lower the Cost of Solar Energy

Sandia National Laboratories will receive $10.5 million from the Department of Energy to research and design a cheaper and more efficient solar energy system.The work focuses on refining a specific type of utility-scale solar energy technology that uses mirrors to reflect and concentrate sunlight onto a receiver on a tower.

Solar Turbines, Inc. Selects Penn State to Establish Center of Excellence in Gas Turbines

After completing an extensive evaluation of institutions of higher learning in the United States and Europe, Solar Turbines Incorporated has chosen Penn State as a university partner to establish a center of excellence in gas turbines. The center involves numerous faculty across Penn State's College of Engineering.

ORNL Facility Receives American Nuclear Society's Historic Landmark Designation

The American Nuclear Society has designated the Radiochemical Engineering Development Center at the Department of Energy's Oak Ridge National Laboratory an ANS Nuclear Historic Landmark, recognizing more than 50 years of isotope production and nuclear fuel cycle research.

Steven Cowley named director of DOE's Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory

Steven Cowley, a theoretical physicist and international authority on fusion energy, has been named director of the U.S. Department of Energy's (DOE) Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory (PPPL), effective July 1.

Scientists Turn X-ray Laser Into World's Fastest Water Heater

Scientists have used a powerful X-ray laser at the Department of Energy's SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory to heat water from room temperature to 100,000 degrees Celsius in less than a tenth of a picosecond, or millionth of a millionth of a second.

PNNL Part of a New National Center for Near-Atomic Resolution of Biological Molecules

A collaboration between the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory and Oregon Health & Science University has been chosen as a national center for a Nobel Prize-winning method of imaging, cryo-electron microscopy, that is revolutionizing structural biology.

SLAC Will Open One of Three NIH National Service Centers for Cryo-Electron Microscopy

The National Institutes of Health announced today that it will establish a national service and training center for cryogenic electron microscopy research at the Department of Energy's SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory.

Planck Collaboration Wins 2018 Gruber Cosmology Prize

The Planck Team--including researchers in Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory's (Berkeley Lab's) Computational Research and Physics divisions--have been awarded the 2018 Gruber Cosmology Prize.


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Cracking the Code of Superconductivity and Magnetism

Neutron probes and theory reveal how electrons cooperate at lower temperatures.

The Secret to Measuring an Antineutrino's Energy

Scientists are developing better models that describe both neutrino and antineutrino data, which can offer insights into the nature of the universe.

How to Cope with Cases of Mistaken Identity: MINERvA's Tale of Pions and Neutrinos

Neutral pion production is a major character in a story of mistaken identity worthy of an Agatha Christie novel.

Perfecting the Noise-Canceling Neutrino Detector

MicroBooNE neutrino experiment cuts through the noise, clearing the way for signals made by the hard-to-detect particle.

Keeping Tabs on Polysulfides in Batteries

Optimizing lithium-sulfur battery electrolytes for long life.

Huge "Thermometer" Takes Temperatures of Tiny Samples

New spectroscopic technique measures heat in itty-bitty volumes that could reveal insights for electronics and energy technology.

Water, Water, Everywhere, but How Does It Flow?

Scientists use new X-ray technique to see how water moves at the molecular level.

Magnetized Plasmas That "Twist Light" Can Produce Powerful Microscopes and More

A non-twisting laser beam moving through magnetized plasma turns into an optical vortex that traps, rotates, and controls microscopic particles, opening new frontiers in imaging.

Whistling While You Work: Fusion Scientists Find Inspiration in Atmospheric Whistles

Just like lightning, fusion plasmas contain odd electromagnetic whistler waves that could control destructive electrons in fusion reactors.

Zero Tolerance in Tokamaks: Eliminating Small Instabilities Before They Become Disruptions

Energetic ions and beam heating cause or calm instabilities, depending on the tokamak's magnetic field.


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