The goal of researchers at Purdue University is to develop coatings or materials capable of withstanding the extreme conditions inside fusion reactors, known as tokamaks, where a magnetic field is used to confine a donut-shaped plasma of isotopic hydrogen.
The obstacle to finding the right coatings to line a fusion reactor is that the material changes due to extreme conditions inside, where temperatures reach millions of degrees.
"One of the biggest challenges for thermonuclear magnetic fusion is understanding how plasma in the fusion reactor modifies the inner wall," Jean Paul Allain, a professor of nuclear engineering, said in a Purdue release Thursday. "This is a big unknown because now we can't see what happens in real time to the wall surfaces."
The Purdue researchers have developed a device they've dubbed a materials analysis particle probe that will be connected to the underside of an experimental fusion reactor at Princeton University's Plasma Physics Laboratory.
The probe will provide information about how the coating materials evolve under plasma conditions, and data from the instrument will help researchers develop new materials for the reactor vessel lining.
"Currently we don't have the materials needed to sustain these large plasma and thermal fluxes," Allain said. "Some completely break down and melt. We need to understand how to operate and control the wall itself and the plasma together as they are interacting."
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