Jaguar supercomputer harnesses heat for fusion energy

April 18, 2011 By Eric Gedenk
Depending on its size, this sort of simulation runs on between 5,000 and 50,000 of Jaguar's 224,256 processing cores.

University of California-Irvine researcher Zhihong Lin is using the Jaguar supercomputer at Oak Ridge National Laboratory to study fusion reactions, which produce helium from hydrogen and release energy in the process, in hopes of igniting ITER, an experimental fusion reactor being built in southern France.

In 2010, the team of Lin and General Atomics researcher Ron Waltz was awarded three years of processor time on the Oak Ridge Leadership Computing Facility's Cray XT5 Jaguar—a supercomputer capable of more than two quadrillion calculations per second—by the Department of Energy's INCITE, program.

simulations began using the principles of magnetohydrodynamics which treat plasma as a fluid much like air or water. This study can account for a macroscopic response of the plasma, called Alfvén or MHD waves.

Lin played a key role in developing one of two computer programs that his team uses to calculate plasma particles' motion using supercomputers in hopes of painting a more complete picture of turbulence in a fusion plasma. The team spent 2010 making sure they would be able to simulate charged particles interacting with MHD waves in the plasma. The goal for 2011 is to calculate the evolution of charged particles travelling in a doughnut-shaped reactor, called a tokamak, and observe how and where MHD waves transport energetic particles. By 2012 Lin expects the model to be fully developed—simultaneously simulating all turbulent interactions between the particles in a .

The computer programs are applied to the same simulations using complementary approaches. One creates three-dimensional grids to sample plasma turbulence and associated random particle motion. Interactions between plasma particles and electromagnetic fields can be resolved in great detail. Depending on its size, this sort of simulation runs on between 5,000 and 50,000 of Jaguar's 224,256 processing cores.

Another program tracks particles in the phase space to get information about their three-dimensional motion in the ITER machine. This simulation uses between 5,000 and 10,000 cores. These simulations provide researchers with insights into the reaction between deuterium and tritium in a superheated plasma. In a fusion reaction, deuterium and tritium fuel ions occasionally smash into one another and fuse to create energetic neutrons and ions. To sustain a fusion reaction, this phenomenon continues many times over as charged particles are brought together by strong magnetic fields in the reactor.

Turbulence can threaten the fusion reaction by allowing to travel to the tokamak walls, causing the plasma to cool. Lin's team is using simulations to develop ways of applying electromagnetic forces to overcome turbulence, heating the reactor, rather than cooling it.

Explore further: ORNL, Princeton partners in five-year fusion project

Related Stories

ORNL, Princeton partners in five-year fusion project

September 14, 2005

Knowledge gained by Oak Ridge National Laboratory researchers and colleagues through an initiative to begin this fall could answer several long-standing questions and give the United States a competitive edge in the design ...

Imaging of Alfven waves and fast ions in a fusion plasma

November 8, 2010

Fusion plasmas in the laboratory typically reach 100 million degrees. These high temperatures are required to ignite the hydrogen plasma and maintain the fusion burn by the production of high-energy alpha particles. One challenge ...

Wave power could contain fusion plasma

January 10, 2011

Researchers at the University of Warwick’s Centre for Fusion Space and Astrophysics and the UK Atomic Energy Authority’s Culham Centre for Fusion Energy may have found a way to channel the flux and fury of a nuclear ...

Another high-definition plasma

February 24, 2011

( -- The sight of an aurora evokes feelings of mystery and awe in the weekend star gazer and scientist alike. The stargazer may ponder the vastness of our universe or how such vivid color can be created in space, ...

Recommended for you

Fusion reactors 'economically viable' say experts

October 2, 2015

Fusion reactors could become an economically viable means of generating electricity within a few decades, and policy makers should start planning to build them as a replacement for conventional nuclear power stations, according ...

Iron-gallium alloy shows promise as a power-generation device

September 29, 2015

An alloy first made nearly two decades ago by the U. S. Navy could provide an efficient new way to produce electricity. The material, dubbed Galfenol, consists of iron doped with the metal gallium. In new experiments, researchers ...

Extending a battery's lifetime with heat

October 1, 2015

Don't go sticking your electronic devices in a toaster oven just yet, but for a longer-lasting battery, you might someday heat them up when not in use. Over time, the electrodes inside a rechargeable battery cell can grow ...

Invisibility cloak might enhance efficiency of solar cells

September 30, 2015

Success of the energy turnaround will depend decisively on the extended use of renewable energy sources. However, their efficiency partly is much smaller than that of conventional energy sources. The efficiency of commercially ...

Scientists produce status check on quantum teleportation

September 30, 2015

Mention the word 'teleportation' and for many people it conjures up "Beam me up, Scottie" images of Captain James T Kirk. But in the last two decades quantum teleportation – transferring the quantum structure of an object ...


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.