Levitating magnet may yield new method to obtain clean energy

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Washington, January 25 (ANI): Scientists have said that a new experiment that reproduces the magnetic fields of the Earth and other planets with the help of a levitating magnet, has the potential to be developed as a new way of creating a power-producing plant based on nuclear fusion.

The new results come from an experimental device on the MIT campus, inspired by observations from space made by satellites. alled the Levitated Dipole Experiment (LDX), a joint project of MIT and Columbia University, it uses a half-ton donut-shaped magnet about the size and shape of a large truck tire, made of superconducting wire coiled inside a stainless steel vessel.

This magnet is suspended by a powerful electromagnetic field, and is used to control the motion of the 10-million-degree-hot electrically charged gas, or plasma, contained within its 16-foot-diameter outer chamber.

The results confirm the counter-intuitive prediction that inside the device's magnetic chamber, random turbulence causes the plasma to become more densely concentrated, instead of becoming more spread out, as usually happens with turbulence.

This "turbulent pinching" of the plasma has been observed in the way plasmas in space interact with the Earth's and Jupiter's magnetic fields, but has never before been recreated in the laboratory.

LDX takes a different approach to recreate the "turbulent pinching" of the plasma.

When operating, the huge LDX magnet is supported by the magnetic field from an electromagnet overhead, which is controlled continuously by a computer based on precision monitoring of its position using eight laser beams and detectors.

The position of the half-ton magnet, which carries a current of one million amperes, can be maintained this way to within half a millimeter.

A cone-shaped support with springs is positioned under the magnet to catch it safely if anything goes wrong with the control system.

Levitation is crucial because the magnetic field used to confine the plasma would be disturbed by any objects in its way, such as any supports used to hold the magnet in place.

In the experimental runs, the researchers recreated the same conditions with and without the support system in place, and confirmed that the confinement of the plasma was dramatically increased in the levitated mode, with the supports removed.

With the magnet levitated, the central peak of plasma density developed within a few hundredths of a second, and closely resembled those observed in planetary magnetospheres, such as the magnetic fields surrounding Earth and Jupiter.

The results of the experiment show that this approach "could produce an alternative path to fusion," though more research will be needed to determine whether it would be practical. (ANI)

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