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Saul Krasner Memorial Science Lecture Series
Prof. Michael Mauel, Columbia University

"Bringing the Stars to Earth: The Path to Fusion Power" 

Abstract: A grand challenge of applied physics is to use our scientific know-how of plasma physics to achieve one of the world’s most important technical goals: a source of energy that is clean, safe, and available for thousands of years. Fusion energy is the most promising source of energy meeting these requirements. Fusion uses the heavy isotope of hydrogen, called deuterium, to form helium and release huge amounts of energy. Every bottle of water contains enough deuterium to generate the equivalent of a barrel of oil when used in a fusion power source. But a major challenge remains: deuterium must first be heated to the temperature of the stars before fusion energy can be released. Professor Mike Mauel will describe experiments that test whether or not the magnetic fields used to confine high temperature plasma at the surfaces of stars or in planetary magnetospheres can produce the conditions that will make fusion energy work. The largest of these is the ITER experiment, now under construction in France and lead by an international organization that includes the U.S., Europe, Russia, China, India, South Korea, and Japan.  

Biography: Michael Mauel was educated at MIT receiving his B.S. (1978) and his Sc.D. (1983) with a research specialty in plasma physics. While at MIT, he was awarded the Fortesque Fellowship from the IEEE and the Guillemin Prize. Following post-doctoral research at MIT he joined the faculty of Columbia University in 1985 where he is currently Professor of Applied Physics and was Chair of the Department of Applied Physics and Applied Mathematics from 2000-06. At Columbia, his research focused on high temperature plasma physics, and he was awarded a Certificate of Appreciation by the U.S. Department of Energy in 1989 for his work in fusion energy. Dr. Mauel collaborated extensively with the TFTR research team at the Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory and participated in advanced tokamak experiments and in the world’s first high-power D-T fusion experiments. He was a visiting scientist at DIII-D fusion experiment at General Atomics in 1994, investigating high-pressure "wall mode" instabilities and co-discovered techniques to generate internal transport barriers. At Columbia University, he built experimental programs in plasma processing in collaboration with IBM and in laboratory space physics with the support of NASA, NSF, and the AFOSR. He also co-directed the Levitated Dipole Experiment, a joint research project of Columbia University and MIT that uses high-field superconducting magnets to explore the application of magnetospheric physics to the confinement of high-pressure plasma in the laboratory. In 1994, Mauel was named Teacher of the Year at Columbia's Fu Foundation School of Engineering and Applied Science, and, in 2000, he received the Rose Prize for Excellence in Fusion Engineering from the Fusion Power Association. During the 2006-2007 academic year, Mauel served in the Office of International Energy and Commodity Policy at U.S. Department of State as a Jefferson Science Fellow, and he was awarded a Certificate of Appreciation by the Assistant Secretary of State. Dr. Mauel is a fellow of the APS. He served as Chair of the APS Division of Plasma Physics and as member and chair of numerous physics and policy advisory committees addressing issues concerning fusion energy science, plasma physics research and education.