Fusion Energy: Harnessing the Power the Sun on Earth

For December 16, 2020       
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Hi WN@TL Fans,
This week we are closing in on the longest night of the longest year in a long time.  In addition to the winter solstice, we get a double celestial event with the Great Conjunction of Saturn and Jupiter in the evening sky — an event which, like 2020 if we’re lucky, won’t happen again for another 60 years.
The fixed stars and the wandering planets, the clocklike comets and the capricious meteors, the brilliant supernovas and the sublime blackholes, all give us pause and guide us on our ways in our explorations of how nature works.  Cosmology dazzles us with big-bang origins and baffles us with uncertain eschatologies of the universe.  Starry messengers and gravity waves travel across the millions or billions of lightyears and ping against ice-embalmed neutrino detectors or mess with interferometers.  A passage of the Lord’s Prayer becomes the astrophysicist’s question:  on Earth, as it is in Heaven?
Happily, it’s not just the astrophysicists who draw inspiration from how the heavenly bodies tick.   On December 16 we put a special star atop the tree of year 2020 with a talk by Steffi Diem of Engineering Physics entitled “Fusion Energy:  Harnessing the Power of the Sun on Earth.”

Description:   The potential to use fusion as a carbon-free, fuel-abundant energy source to meet the world’s growing energy demands has motivated significant US and international research. At present, the global fusion community is embarking on a new era to demonstrate net fusion power production with the construction of ITER, a fusion reactor that uses a donut-shaped magnetic field to confine 150 million C plasma (10x hotter than the center of the sun) with the goal of producing 500 MW of fusion power. This talk will illustrate the concept of magnetic fusion energy and highlight Pegasus-III, a new fusion research facility being pursued at UW to address reactor relevant challenges for fusion energy.

Bio:  Prof. Diem’s research interests are in experimental plasma physics for fusion energy development with emphasis on validating numerical models with experimental data. She focuses on utilizing radiofrequency waves to heat and drive current in magnetically confined plasmas. Prof. Diem’s current research is focused on electron Bernstein wave and electron cyclotron heating and current drive experiments on Pegasus-III at UW-Madison as well as collaborations domestically and internationally on RF injection in magnetically confined plasmas. She received her PhD in Plasma Physics from Princeton University and BS in Nuclear Engineering from UW-Madison. Prior to joining the faculty at UW-Madison, Prof. Diem was a Research and Development Staff Scientist in the Fusion Energy Division at Oak Ridge National Laboratory, and was on long-term assignment at the DIII-D National Fusion Facility at General Atomics in San Diego, CA.

Explore More: 



On January 6 we will have an epiphany about microbiology & mosquitoes.  Kerri Coon of Bacteriology will be here to talk about “Why Mosquitoes Love YOU (and Other Things You Never Knew about Skeeters & Their Microbiome).”
Description:  Microbes are everywhere…and so are mosquitoes. Our lab has found interesting links between the communities of microbes present in the guts of mosquitoes and the environments in which they live (i.e. the ‘mosquito microbiome’) and the ability of mosquitoes to grow, reproduce, and blood feed. These findings not only have important implications for the development of novel strategies to control mosquitoes and the pathogens they transmit, but also for our understanding of how microbes have shaped the evolution of other, closely related insects of ecological, medical, and agricultural concern. Join us to find out more about the biology of these notorious pests, and to learn about a friendly mosquito native to Wisconsin!

Bio:  Kerri Coon is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Bacteriology. Kerri received her doctoral degree from the lab of Dr. Michael Strand at the University of Georgia, where she studied the microbial regulation of molting in mosquitoes. She subsequently worked on insect microbiome-immune system interactions in Dr. Nancy Moran’s lab at the University of Texas at Austin before starting her position at the University of Wisconsin-Madison in 2019. Research in Kerri’s lab focuses on understanding the diversity and function of gut microbes in mosquitoes and other insect disease vectors.
On January 13 Nam Kim of Anthropology presents on “Plumbing Nebulous Depths: Violence and Warfare in Humanity’s Past.”
Description:  Are we an inherently violent species? Has “warfare” always existed for humanity? This lecture highlights anthropological research regarding the antiquity and earliest cultural expressions of organized violence. It highlights various methods used by researchers to identify and consider practices related to violence and warfare in the remote past, and how such behaviors may have been profoundly tied to both biological and cultural changes in human history. The lecture also considers how anthropological evidence has been presented to the general public and the implications of such findings in shaping our views about human nature and prospects for peace.
Bio:  I am an anthropological archaeologist interested in sociopolitical complexity, early forms of cities, factors associated with significant cultural change, and the relationship between modern politics, cultural heritage, and the material record. I am  especially interested in the cultural contexts and social consequences of organized violence and warfare, as manifested in various cultural, spatial and temporal settings. Much of my recent research has been geographically focused on East and Southeast Asia, and since 2005 I have been conducting archaeological fieldwork in Vietnam at the Co Loa settlement in the Red River Delta. A heavily fortified site located near modern-day Hanoi, Co Loa is purportedly connected to Vietnamese legendary accounts and is thus viewed by many as integral to the genesis of Vietnamese civilization. Aside from its historical and national significance, the case of Co Loa is salient for archaeological theory as it constitutes one of the earliest cases for both state formation and urbanism in Southeast Asia.

Legendary Cổ Loa: Vietnam’s Ancient Capital (2020). Interview with Tristan Hughes, part of History Hit TV’s podcast series The Ancients

On January 20 Claudia Solis-Lemus of Plant Pathology and the Wisconsin Institute for Discovery presents on “Through the Looking-Glass of Data Science.”
Description:  Big data is creating a big splash. In 2020 we expect 2.7 million job openings in Data Science in the US alone — 10 times more than public health, another fast-growing field. But what exactly is Data Science? In this talk, I will describe my research as a statistician in a Plant Pathology department, and how Data Science is revolutionizing the way we study plants and microbes. Statistics exploits the power of big data, redefining the way in which we do science by allowing us to spark discovery out of the massive amounts of data that are being collected in every scientific field. I will describe specific examples related to soil and plant microbiome, and illustrate how the general applicability of statistical tools can help translate methodologies that we use in plants to human research, in particular, to gut and lung microbiome.

Bio:  I grew up in Mexico City, where I did my undergraduate work at the Instituto Tecnologico Autonomo de Mexico in Actuarial Sciences and Applied Mathematics. I did my Ph.D. in Statistics at the University of Wisconsin–Madison, and then a postdoc here as well in the Department of Botany. After that, I did a postdoc at Emory University in the Department of Human Genetics. Now, I am an assistant professor jointly affiliated with the Wisconsin Institute for Discovery and the Department of Plant Pathology.