Jim and Anne Sorden Professor
The research effort in the HSX Plasma Laboratory centers on a novel plasma containment device, the Helically Symmetric Experiment (HSX) recently completed under funding from the US DoE. HSX combines the positive features of the tokamak type device, which has achieved the best parameters to date, with the stellarator, which has tremendous engineering advantages for fusion reactor design. The primary goal of HSX is to study the confinement properties of this unique configuration and demonstrate that we can meet or exceed tokamak-level performance in a stellarator device. Plasmas are a “fourth” state of matter, highly-ionized gases at high temperature, and make up most of the universe. In addition to numerous industrial applications, the confinement and heating of plasmas are studied as a means to provide virtually limitless energy through the process of nuclear fusion. In this process, hydrogen isotopes “fuse” to form a helium nucleus releasing tremendous amounts of energy; it is the process driving the stars and occurs at stellar-like temperatures ~100 million degrees. Intense magnetic field “bottles” are used to contain the hot plasma. Plasma confinement and fusion have progressed to the point where over 15 megawatts of fusion energy has been produced in laboratory experiments.