NPRE Gains Major Plasma/Fusion Facility from German Institute
The Max Planck Institute for Plasma Physics (IPP) has gifted a multi-million dollar plasma/fusion advanced physics testing facility to the University of Illinois as a result of the relationship the Nuclear, Plasma, and Radiological Engineering plasma/fusion group has developed with the German institute.
The machine, being renamed the Hybrid Illinois Device for Research and Applications, or HIDRA, will make NPRE one of a handful of U.S. nuclear departments offering such a significant facility for plasma/fusion research and education.
Said David Ruzic, NPRE professor and director of the Center for Plasma-Material Interactions (CPMI) at Illinois, “This machine will allow research to be done here that cannot be done anywhere else. With HIDRA we will do unique things that are critically needed by the fusion community.”
Ruzic and his colleagues secured the device upon learning that the Max Planck Institute in Griefswald, Germany, wanted to replace it with the construction of the world’s biggest stellarator, Wendelstein 7-X, (W7-X) a plasma device for controlled nuclear fusion reaction. That project has cost $1 billion over the last 10 years, and will go into operation soon.
Ruzic’s former postdoctoral research associate, Daniel Andruczyk, had worked on the machine at IPP prior to coming to Illinois. NPRE recently hired Andruczyk as a research assistant professor to run the machine.
“The machine that we are calling HIDRA was called WEGA and it was the test bed for many diagnostics and control systems that were being developed for the new W7-X optimized stellarator,” Andruczyk said. “I was there for three years working on heating systems and diagnostic development.”
Illinois’ acquisition of HIDRA began in Summer 2013 when Andruczyk, then a research engineer stationed at the Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory (PPPL); NPRE Assistant Prof. Davide Curreli; and PhD student Peter Fiflis joined IPP scientist Andreas Werner for dinner, and they joked about relocating the facility to Illinois. Later during that conference, the Illinois group ran into Dr. Thomas Klinger, IPP’s director, who confirmed that the WEGA facility would be shut down and given away. The possibility of transferring the facility to the Nuclear Radiation Laboratory (NRL), CPMI’s home at Illinois, then became serious.
“Hosting a plasma device like HIDRA inside NRL is not trivial,” Curreli said. “Prof. Ruzic and (NPRE Associate) Prof. (Jean Paul) Allain gave me full support with the operation, so I proceeded with the investigations and the discussions with IPP.
“I was asking them to give us their million-dollar experiment on which they had worked and conducted research for a decade! And I had to understand exactly the infrastructure required to host and operate that device.
“A big question mark was on the power supplies (they are million-dollar pieces of equipment), that at the end we managed to get. The whole operation involves many technical challenges: it never happened that a European toroidal reactor was moved from Europe to the United States. All its major power components are rated for EU standards, and they must be adapted to operate in the US electrical network.”
By January 2014, the technical details were resolved and Ruzic, Allain and Curreli all traveled to Germany to finalize the deal.
“This is what Illinois does,” said Andreas Cangellaris, dean of Illinois’ College of Engineering. “Our amazing faculty members like Professors Ruzic, Allain, and Curreli take on projects that strain the limits of feasibility. They look them in the eye. They get the job done. And they open entirely new avenues of research for our faculty and new educational experiences for our students. They do the impossible every day.”
Realizing the unique capabilities HIDRA brings to the Illinois campus and the opportunities it will create for disciplines across the College of Engineering as well as beyond the university, the College and the Office of the Vice Chancellor for Research will share NPRE’s shipping costs and infrastructure support for HIDRA. The equipment, itself, will be at no cost to NPRE or the university.
“Our NPRE program is top notch, and HIDRA has unique features that will further strengthen the U of I’s reputation in plasma/fusion research,” said Peter Schiffer, Vice Chancellor for Research. “I look forward to hearing about the new discoveries that this equipment will enable.”
Ruzic and the CPMI team foresee many uses for all of HIDRA’s functions. It will be helpful in investigating plasma-material interactions, liquid metals, plasma nano-synthesis, fusion transport models and materials processing. Ruzic said the device also will be available for use by other departments, increasing NPRE faculty’s interdisciplinary work. “We can start collaborating with new people because we have something that can do very unique things,” he said.
In addition to enabling research, HIDRA will be an exceptional teaching tool. Students will learn as they help rebuild the device this summer and fall. Plans are for Andruczyk to teach 200-level, 400-level and 500-level courses in Fusion Device Operations as early as Spring 2015.
“I will be teaching a class in the design and operations of fusion devices,” Andruczyk said. “It’s all well and good to know the plasma equations and know the theory, but learning what goes into designing, building and testing such a device is extremely important, and as far as I know there is nowhere else that really offers a course like this.”
He continued: “We want to look at not only how to build a machine, to cool the machine, and determine what magnetic fields are needed, but also look into materials, PFC design, diagnostics and control systems. This way, HIDRA can be continuously improved while providing a good hands-on opportunity for students to gain experience in fusion.”
Only a handful of other universities, including Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Columbia University in New York City, have comparable fusion facilities.
“We were very fortunate, but this is a case in which hard work produces opportunity,” Ruzic said. By hiring both Allain and Curreli in the past year, NPRE has shown an expanded commitment to plasma and fusion science.
“This facility brings a whole new dimension to our research in plasma-materials interactions: research that will provide unique, unrivaled new information about materials performance and research we can take into the classroom to teach a whole new generation of fusion researchers,” said NPRE Department Head Jim Stubbins. “HIDRA is a world-class research facility that will propel our leadership in the field of plasma-materials interactions even further ahead.”