Nuclear fusion affords the potential for a protected, clear and considerable power supply.
This course of, which additionally happens within the solar, entails plasmas, fluids composed of charged particles, being heated to extraordinarily excessive temperatures in order that the atoms fuse collectively, releasing considerable power.
One problem to performing this response on Earth is the dynamic nature of plasmas, which have to be managed to achieve the required temperatures that permit fusion to occur. Now researchers on the College of Washington have developed a technique that harnesses advances within the laptop gaming trade: It makes use of a gaming graphics card, or GPU, to run the management system for his or her prototype fusion reactor.
The group revealed these outcomes Might 11 in Assessment of Scientific Devices.
“You want this degree of velocity and precision with plasmas as a result of they’ve such complicated dynamics that evolve at very excessive speeds. In case you can not sustain with them, or in case you mispredict how plasmas will react, they’ve a nasty behavior of going within the completely incorrect path in a short time,” mentioned co-author Chris Hansen, a UW senior analysis scientist within the aeronautics and astronautics division.
“Most functions attempt to function in an space the place the system is fairly static. At most all you must do is ‘nudge’ issues again in place,” Hansen mentioned. “In our lab, we’re working to develop strategies to actively hold the plasma the place we wish it in additional dynamic methods.”
The UW group’s experimental reactor self-generates magnetic fields solely throughout the plasma, making it doubtlessly smaller and cheaper than different reactors that use exterior magnetic fields.
“By including magnetic fields to plasmas, you possibly can transfer and management them with out having to ‘contact’ the plasma,” Hansen mentioned. “For instance, the northern lights happen when plasma touring from the solar runs into the Earth’s magnetic discipline, which captures it and causes it to stream down towards the poles. Because it hits the ambiance, the charged particles emit mild.”
The UW group’s prototype reactor heats plasma to about 1 million levels Celsius (1.8 million levels Fahrenheit). That is far in need of the 150 million levels Celsius vital for fusion, however sizzling sufficient to review the idea.
Right here, the plasma types in three injectors on the gadget after which these mix and naturally arrange right into a doughnut-shaped object, like a smoke ring. These plasmas final just a few thousandths of a second, which is why the group wanted to have a high-speed technique for controlling what’s occurring.
Beforehand, researchers have used slower or much less user-friendly expertise to program their management methods. So the group turned to an NVIDIA Tesla GPU, which is designed for machine studying functions.
“The GPU offers us entry to an enormous quantity of computing energy,” mentioned lead writer Kyle Morgan, a UW analysis scientist within the aeronautics and astronautics division. “This degree of efficiency was pushed by the pc gaming trade and, extra not too long ago, machine studying, however this graphics card gives a extremely nice platform for controlling plasmas as nicely.”
Utilizing the graphics card, the group may fine-tune how plasmas entered the reactor, giving the researchers a extra exact view of what is occurring because the plasmas kind — and finally doubtlessly permitting the group to create longer-living plasmas that function nearer to the circumstances required for managed fusion energy.
“The largest distinction is for the long run,” Hansen mentioned. “This new system lets us strive newer, extra superior algorithms that would allow considerably higher management, which may open a world of recent functions for plasma and fusion expertise.”