A Simons Foundation Public Talk
Plasmas permeate most of the visible universe. Utilizing plasmas, scientists hope to make thermonuclear fusion a viable energy source, offering effectively unlimited energy production with no carbon footprint. That quest requires better understanding, control and optimization of plasmas and has sparked the creation of the international ITER mega-project, an axisymmetric toroidal plasma device known as the tokamak that carries an axial current.
In this lecture, Amitava Bhattacharjee discusses progress in nuclear fusion plasma research and alternatives to tokamaks called stellarators. Stellarators are three-dimensional toroidal plasma devices that are nearly currentless and are hence free of disruptive instabilities. Such devices can have a subtle form of hidden symmetry called ‘quasi-symmetry.’ Designing quasi-symmetric stellarators is an outstanding problem straddling plasma physics, applied mathematics, dynamical systems theory and computational physics. The knowledge gained over the last few decades in fusion plasma physics has directly or indirectly inspired major spin-offs in other areas of science and engineering, ranging from fundamental insights on unsolved problems in the laboratory and the cosmos to applications in materials and medicine.