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A fusion of fusion

By Matin Durrani

We’ve had fusion on our minds quite a lot here at Physics World in recent months.

First we published “Hot fusion” – a great feature by Steve Cowley, chief executive of the UK Atomic Energy Authority at the Culham Centre for Fusion Energy, in which he expresses his optimism that ITER – the huge international fusion experiment being built in France – “will achieve its goal of a burning plasma in the mid-2020s”.

While Cowley examined some of the technical challenges in building ITER, we then hooked up with Sir Christopher Llewellyn Smith who outlined ITER’s many political and financial challenges in a special video interview “ITER – a fusion facility worth building”.

Getting a huge multinational project like ITER off the ground is never easy and Sir Chris – who was chair of ITER council until last year – does a good job of making the case that ITER is a project worth pursuing, despite its price tag of €13bn (and rising). “We cannot afford not to develop fusion,” Sir Chris insists.

In a second video interview “Fusion: from here to reality”, I spoke to David Ward from the Culham Centre for Fusion Energy (CCFE) in the UK, who’s been involved in the fusion game for 25 years. He talked about some of the challenges in going from ITER to a working fusion plant, dubbed DEMO. What’s interesting is that he predicts not just one version of DEMO, but lots, with China and India potentially leading the way.

But fusion research, like all scientific research, would be nowhere without public funding and public support. In our third fusion video “A passion for fusion: nuclear research and science communication”, former CCFE researcher Melanie Windridge describes some of the challenges in communicating the excitement of fusion research to the public – and to school children in particular.

The Institute of Physics, which publishes, selected Windridge as this year’s Schools Lecturer, a role that has seen her travelling the UK delivering an interactive lecture show about fusion energy to more than 13,000 school students between the ages of 14 and 16.

She talks passionately about her role as a science communicator and offers plenty of practical tips for researchers who want to communicate their work to a more general audience.

Summing up her 2010 lecture tour, Windridge believes that she is lucky with her area of expertise. “Fusion is inherently very interesting and energy is a very emotive subject, so it’s relevant to people’s lives,” she says.

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