Postdoctoral Fellow Robert Mumgaard has been accepted into the 2015-2016 Translational Fellows Program (TFP) supported by the MIT Innovation Initiative. First introduced in 2013, the TFP supports fellows for one day a week for a full academic year to encourage them to “pursue commercialization of a technology that originated in MIT research.” The program connects MIT researchers with experienced technology entrepreneurs and business leaders to explore possible markets, customer constraints, funding-strategies, and IP protection for MIT-derived research.
Mumgaard has a keen interest in the economic and policy implications of fusion development, including how innovation cycles influence fusion research and the effect of organizational scale and culture on the endeavor. Fusion research is entering an exciting phase as the political landscape shifts, public funding for basic research decreases, climate change looms, and fusion technology advances. Mumgaard’s leading-edge research explores the role of small, focused, experimental reactors in retiring risk in a cost-effective and rapid manner, thus accelerating fusion energy development. This work is part of the larger effort at the MIT PSFC to develop high-field magnets using high-temperature superconductors and studying plasmas at fusion-relevant conditions in high-field tokamaks — the leading fusion concept. Combining new magnet technology and tokamak physics understanding enables fusion reactors to be constructed at a fraction of the size, cost, and time as previously envisioned.
The TFP award, one of 26 across the institute, will allow Mumgaard to quantify possible markets for compact high-field tokamaks which would traditionally only be used as prototypes for energy-producing fusion reactors. These include the neutron market for testing and material modification and the potential for fission waste annihilation. If it is possible to generate revenue through non-electricity producing ventures this could accelerate efforts aimed at producing an economical fusion reactor in the time-frame relevant for mitigating climate change. With support form the TFP Mumgaard will explore possible funding, identify ventures with similar scale and time-, and assess the impact of different paths-to-market on the development of the high-field tokamak. The effort will bring expert nonpartial advice from successful venture leaders to the PSFC endeavor and will strengthen ties between the MIT PSFC and the innovation and entrepreneur communities at MIT.
Mumgaard graduated with a PhD in Applied Plasma Physics from MIT’s Department of Nuclear Science and engineering. His graduate work transformed the Motional Stark Effect diagnostic for tokamaks. This diagnostic tool utilizes specialized polarization measurement techniques suited for harsh tokamak environments to measure the internal magnetic field on the PSFC’s Alcator C-Mod experiment. His engineering advances on the Motional Stark Effect diagnostic are well-recognized in the field and have established a new measurement standard. Over the course of his graduate work he performed the first systematic study of the internal magnetic field centered on understanding lower hybrid current drive (LHCD) in tokamaks, a technique that is likely to be essential in future tokamak reactors. In addition to high-field compact tokamaks, his current research includes studying how to extract the intense heat from the tokamak plasmas without damaging the surrounding chamber.