Fun in Fusion Research

This book discusses the fun side of the quest to develop fusion energy-a modern equivalent of the hunt for the Holy Grail. After more than 70 years of research, despite great progress, the goal has not been realized. Do you have to be crazy to love quests like this? Not really, but you do have to have an unshakeable optimism. Through humorous anecdotes, and accessible yet detailed scientific discussion, this book illuminates the enjoyment of scientific research through an account of fifty years working on fusion energy development. The anecdotes bring out the human side of research, in which innovative and sometimes egocentric scientists create both clever and nutty experiments. Among the many stories within are witchcraft at Harwell, shocking experiences, entertaining talks, and the wit of top scientists such as Marshall Rosenbluth. Above all the book highlights the significant advances made in developing practical fusion energy and the promise for an exciting future with the National Ignition Facility and International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor. This book will be of interest to physicists as well as other students and researchers in the scientific and wider communities.
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Students, researchers, and professionals in physics, as well as those interested in the fun in science.


Book information

  • Published: February 2013
  • Imprint: ELSEVIER
  • ISBN: 978-0-12-407793-5


"The book is, in a sense, a short history of the quest for fusion, mainly through magnetic confinement, and the various stories paint an interesting picture of some of the characters in the field…It conveys a strong message that fusion is well worth the effort, even though it is likely to be decades before energy is delivered to the Grid."--CERN Courier, April 30, 2014
"This book has many interesting stories to complement both the history of the world fusion program and John Sheffield’s part in it. I recommend it to all those who are interested in the history of the fusion effort and who also wish to see that "all work and no play" would have made John a dull boy."--Fusion Science and Technology, November 2013
"He has participated in and made contributions to both the theoretical and experimental aspects of plasma science and fusion research. But most important (for this book), he has clearly had a keen eye, and an acute memory, for the very human and "fun" side of such serious work."--21st Century Science & Technology, Fall-Winter 2013
"Sheffield shares stories from his research work at the Atomic Energy Research Establishment in Harwell, the University of Texas, the Joint European Torus, and Oak Ridge National Laboratory, and recalls humorous exchanges unleashed during fusion energy conferences. The comedy enlivens the normally dry science of fusing light elements to generate energy and shows that even plasma physicists can have a little fun."--Reference & Research Book News, October 2013
"Fusion veteran John Sheffield has written an entertaining account of the ‘fun’ times he has had traveling around the world doing research, giving talks, and cavorting with other scientists equally dedicated to the pursuit of the "ultimate" energy source…The book has many interesting stories to complement both the history of the world fusion program and John's part in it."--Fusion Power Report newsletter, May 16, 2013
"There is enough detail explaining fusion, and describing the history and variety of experiments over the last half century, to inform the new reader. But the enjoyment of Sheffield's book is immediately obvious." -- 21st Century Science & Technology, Fall-Winter 2013

Table of Contents


1. The Fusion Dream

Big Bang – A Cutting Review - Genesis of Fusion Research - Magnetic Fusion Configuration History (1930s-1950s) - Inertial Fusion (1960s)

2. Harwell Heydays

Arcs and Sparks - Unusual extra-curricular events

3. Stick with Spiders--TARANTULA

Tarantula - Static Electricity - Dress Code

4. PhD Experiment and Security

My PhD Experiment - The Patrol Force

5. Culture Shock

Unexpected Diversions – The Oblique Shockwave Experiment – Two States Separated by a Common Language

6. Talks Can Surprise Us

Cakes and Ale

7. Culham Again

Neutral Beams and CLEO – A Weird Occurrence

8. JET: Larger and Larger

JET Travels – Entertainment in Dubna

9. JET Design: Do It Again and Again

JET Follies - Shocking Experiences – Fun in the Soviet Union

10. Back in the U.S.A.

Security is a Serious Matter – The Elmo Bumpy Torus – The Early 1980s

- Listening with the Father of the Hydrogen Bomb

11. Conferences in Erice

The Winding Tokamak Road – The Inferneti

12. The Winding Stellarator Road .

Stellarators and Koji Uo – The Advanced Toroidal Facility (ATF)

13. Fusion’s Prospects

The Dinosaur Chart – The Art of Stating Goals: JET and TFTR – What’s in a Q? - The Shiva Winner Altruistic Trust (SWAT)

14. Fear and Flying

Fear – What’s in a Name – Flying to D.C. – Interesting Sides of Al Gore –

Interrupted Talks

15. The Oscillating Fusion Program

The Oscillating Fusion Program – International Fusion

16. What About Fusion Energy?

Sir Walter Raleigh Selling Fusion Energy

17. Fusion and the Universe

Forces in the Universe

Fusion Power Plants

Fusion Energy and the Plasma State

Background to Magnetic Fusion Energy (MFE)

Background to Inertial Confinement (IFE)

Main Challenges for Fusion Energy Research

Achieving a Stable Plasma – Confining the Plasma Energy

– Heating and Fueling the Plasma – Handling the Fusion Power

– Challenges for a Fusion Power Plant

Reflections on Fifty-three Years in Fusion Research


Glossary of Terms