Hailed by the publishers as “groundbreaking,” the 2010 paper describes an improved energy confinement regime for magnetic fusion devices, I-mode, as studied on Alcator C-Mod, a compact, high-field divertor tokamak.
When first discovered, I-mode could only be maintained within a small operational power window to avoid the more conventional H-modes (high-confinement modes), which can have unacceptable impurity accumulation and often result in high power loading on reactor vessel walls.
Through careful tuning of the plasma parameters, including shaping, MIT researchers have managed to substantially widen this operational window, allowing the plasma to remain in the steady-state I-mode operational regime for the entire duration of the high power phase of the discharge. This could have direct application to the larger ITER project, a tokamak currently under construction in France, and is a very promising approach for fusion reactor operation. Alcator C-Mod is currently in “warm shutdown” status, and experimental research operations using the facility will resume if funding becomes available from pending fiscal year 2014 Congressional appropriations.
The article was written by a team from the Alcator group, led by nuclear science and engineering professor Dennis Whyte, the first author of the paper. It was one of 10 papers shortlisted for the prize. As described by the IAEA, “These are papers of the highest scientific standard, published in the journal volume from two years previous to the award year. Nominations are based on citation record and recommendation by the Board of Editors. The Board members then vote by secret ballot to determine which of these papers has made the largest scientific impact.”
The Nuclear Fusion Prize, in its eighth year, is cosponsored by IOP Publishing. The award will be formally presented to Professor Whyte at the 25th biennial International Atomic Energy Agency Fusion Energy Conference, to be held in Saint Petersburg, Russia, in October 2014.