Controlled Nuclear Fusion

Fusion is the process powering the stars, such as our sun. At their core, atomic nuclei collide and fuse together into heavier elements, releasing tremendous amounts of energy. On Earth, fusion scientists try to replicate this process in a controlled manner, by studying the physics and developing the technology of fusion reactors.

ISTTOK Tokamak

The most efficient fusion reaction reproducible in the laboratory takes place between two hydrogen (H) isotopes, deuterium (D) and tritium (T), which are heated to hundreds of millions of degrees, creating a plasma. One way to achieve a controlled fusion reaction is inside a device called a tokamak – a donut-shaped cage – where magnetic fields are used to contain and control the hot plasma.

Fusion ingredients are abundant on earth, and no greenhouse gases or long-lived nuclear waste are created by fusion. Once harnessed, fusion power will be a nearly unlimited, safe and climate friendly energy source.

Fusion research is a global effort, which is currently focused on the Fusion Roadmap aimed at achieving power generation within 30 years. Currently, the major project is the construction of ITER in southern France. The largest tokamak ever built, ITER aims to confirm that fusion power is feasible on a commercial scale.

The research in Controlled Nuclear Fusion at IPFN is organized into the following groups:

  • Engineering and Systems Integration The Group of Engineering and Systems Integration is strongly focused on the development of systems for nuclear fusion experiments and in particular for ITER, JET and DEMO, having already several projects in its portfolio in the areas of control and data acquisition, microwave diagnostics and remote handling.
  • Experimental Physics Experimental Physics The Group of Experimental Physics is in charge of the operation and scientific exploitation of the Portuguese tokamak – ISTTOK – and the collaboration with other fusion devices like ITER, AUG, JET, TJ-II, TCV, W7-X and TCA/Br by developing diagnostics and real-time control systems, participating in the experimental campaigns and collaborating in the modeling, data analysis and development of numerical codes.
  • Material Processing and Characterization The Materials Processing and Characterization Group operates the Ion Beam Laboratory of the Accelerator and Radiation Technologies Unit of IST. Its major interest is to use ion beam analysis to unveil the fundamental processes behind plasma-material interactions and processes and to develop new materials with engineered properties.
  • Theory and Modelling The Group of Theory and Modelling is focused on MHD, turbulence and transport studies of tokamak plasmas in present machines. They also tackle several physics issues whose understanding is crucial to predict the ITER performance and to optimize its operation. It has a strong presence in JET campaigns and in Integrated Tokamak Modelling (ITM) EFDA task force.

Intense Lasers and Plasmas Technology

The plasma state is commonly called the fourth state of matter. It is generated when energy is provided to a solid, liquid or gas such that a fraction of its atoms are ionised.

Laser Laboratory

The plasma state is the most abundant state of visible matter in the universe, comprising the stars and the interstellar space. On Earth, we are used to natural plasmas, in the form of lightning and flames; and artificial plasmas such as plasma TV displays and fluorescent lamps.

Plasmas come in an amazing variety of parameters, making plasma science a fascinating subject, both at the fundamental and application levels. Plasma-based technologies are used today in a variety of fields spanning from microelectronics and materials processing to waste treatment and environmental control, biotechnology and health care.

Laser-produced plasmas are test beds for extreme regimes of nature, where electrons can oscillate at relativistic velocities – and, for instance, become accelerated to GeV energies in a few millimetres, thanks to the overwhelming electric fields associated to electron plasma waves.

Research at IPFN in plasma technologies and intense lasers is dedicated to investigating a multitude of topics in these areas, encompassing theory, simulation and experimental research, in a strongly international environment, and in the frame of several important collaborations with world-leading institutions.

The research in Intense Lasers and Plasmas Technology at IPFN is organized into the following groups:

  • Gas Discharges and Gaseous Electronics Gas Discharges and Gaseous Electronics The Group of Gas Discharges and Gaseous Electronics is mainly devoted to experimental, theoretical and model-based investigations of low-temperature plasmas produced by different kinds of plasma sources. Its research goals include plasma-based technologies for the production of nanoscale materials, environmental issues, biomedicine, development of plasma sources, studies of kinetic processes in planetary atmospheres and others.
  • High-Pressure Plasmas The research interests of the Group of High-Pressure Plasmas are mainly in the field of plasma-electrode interaction and involve both fundamental and application-oriented research, including investigations in collaboration with the industry. Strong scientific connections between members allow the group to focus on well-defined scientific objectives with the use of an appropriate combination of theoretical methods, numerical modeling and experiment.
  • Lasers and Plasmas Lasers and Plasmas The Group of Lasers and Plasmas is focused on research and advanced training in plasma physics, lasers, optics and advanced computing, as well as connected fields, through research programs in frontier problems, in the outstanding quality of students and researchers, and the commitment to the scientific and technological development of Portugal and Europe.