MIT, Columbia begin new energy experiment

Dec 06, 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: How the hummingbird achieves its aerobatic feats

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Helping general electric upgrade the US power grid

Oct 28, 2014

When researchers at General Electric Co. sought help in designing a plasma-based power switch, they turned to the U.S. Department of Energy's (DOE) Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory (PPPL). The proposed ...

How did complex life evolve? The answer could be inside out

Oct 27, 2014

A new idea about the origin of complex life turns current theories inside out. In the open access journal BMC Biology, cousins Buzz and David Baum explain their 'inside-out' theory of how eukaryotic cells, which all multic ...

Recommended for you

How the hummingbird achieves its aerobatic feats

13 hours ago

(Phys.org) —The sight of a tiny hummingbird hovering in front of a flower and then darting to another with lightning speed amazes and delights. But it also leaves watchers with a persistent question: How ...

New terahertz device could strengthen security

Nov 21, 2014

We are all familiar with the hassles that accompany air travel. We shuffle through long lines, remove our shoes, and carry liquids in regulation-sized tubes. And even after all the effort, we still wonder if these procedures ...

CERN makes public first data of LHC experiments

Nov 21, 2014

CERN today launched its Open Data Portal where data from real collision events, produced by experiments at the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) will for the first time be made openly available to all. It is expected ...

User comments : 0

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.