MIT, Columbia begin new energy experiment

December 6, 2004

Half-ton levitating ring is key to work

MIT and Columbia University students and researchers have begun operation of a novel experiment that confines high-temperature ionized gas, called plasma, using the strong magnetic fields from a half-ton superconducting ring inside a huge vessel reminiscent of a spaceship. The experiment, the first of its kind, will test whether nature's way of confining high-temperature gas might lead to a new source of energy for the world.

First results from the Levitated Dipole Experiment (LDX) were presented at a meeting of the American Physical Society the week of Nov. 15. Scientists and students described more than 100 plasma discharges created within the new device, each lasting from 5 to 10 seconds. X-ray spectroscopy and visible photography recorded spectacular images of the hot, confined plasma and of the dynamics of matter confined by strong magnetic force fields.

A dedication for LDX, the United States' newest approach to nuclear fusion, was held in late October. Fusion energy is advantageous because its hydrogen fuel is practically limitless and the resulting energy would be clean and would not contribute to global warming as does the burning of fossil fuels.

Scientists using the LDX experiment will conduct basic studies of confined high-temperature matter and investigate whether the plasma may someday be used to produce fusion energy on Earth. Fusion energy is the energy source of the sun and stars. At high temperature and pressure, light elements like hydrogen are fused together to make heavier elements, such as helium, in a process that releases large amounts of energy.

Powerful magnets, such as the ring in LDX, provide the magnetic fields needed to initiate, sustain and control the plasma in which fusion occurs. Because the shape of the magnetic force fields determines the properties of the confined plasma, several different fusion research experiments are under way throughout the world, including a second experiment at MIT, the Alcator C-Mod, and the HBT-EP experiment at Columbia University.

LDX tackles fusion with a unique approach, taking its cue from nature. The primary confining fields are created by a powerful superconducting ring about the size of a truck tire and weighing more than a half-ton that will ultimately be levitated within a large vacuum chamber. A second superconducting magnet located above the vacuum chamber provides the force necessary to support the weight of the floating coil. The resulting force field resembles the fields of the magnetized planets, such as Earth and Jupiter. Satellites have observed how these fields can confine plasma at hundreds of millions of degrees.

Source: Columbia University Office of Public Affairs

Explore further: Stellar ghosts reveal galactic origins

Related Stories

Stellar ghosts reveal galactic origins

September 21, 2016

Our sky is blanketed in a sea of stellar ghosts; all potential phantoms that have been dead for millions of years and yet we don't know it yet. That is what we will be discussing today. What happens to the largest of our ...

Physicists reveal the role of diffusion in the early universe

September 22, 2016

Scientists from the Space Research Institute of the Russian Academy of Sciences (IKI RAS), the Moscow Institute of Physics and Technology (MIPT), and the Max Planck Institute for Astrophysics (MPA) have shown that diffusion ...

Spherical tokamak as model for next steps in fusion energy

August 24, 2016

Among the top puzzles in the development of fusion energy is the best shape for the magnetic facility—or "bottle"—that will provide the next steps in the development of fusion reactors. Leading candidates include spherical ...

Recommended for you

New finding supports Moon creation hypothesis

September 26, 2016

A layer of iron and other elements deep underground is the evidence scientists have long been seeking to support the hypothesis that the moon was formed by a planetary object hitting the infant Earth some 4.5 billion years ...

Mercury found to be tectonically active

September 26, 2016

Images acquired by NASA's MErcury Surface, Space ENvironment, GEochemistry, and Ranging (MESSENGER) spacecraft show geologic features that indicate Mercury is likely still contracting today, joining Earth as a tectonically ...

Discovery may benefit farmers worldwide

September 26, 2016

University of Guelph plant scientists have shown for the first time how an ancient crop teams up with a beneficial microbe to protect against a devastating fungal infection, a discovery that may benefit millions of subsistence ...

New low-mass objects could help refine planetary evolution

September 26, 2016

When a star is young, it is often still surrounded by a primordial rotating disk of gas and dust, from which planets can form. Astronomers like to find such disks because they might be able to catch the star partway through ...

Photons do the twist, and scientists can now measure it

September 26, 2016

Researchers in the University of Minnesota's College of Science and Engineering have measured the twisting force, or torque, generated by light on a silicon chip. Their work holds promise for applications such as miniaturized ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.