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One of the banners from MIT's Plasma Science & Fusion Center website.
Monday, May 20, 2013

MIT shuts fusion research program as funding dries up

The Boston Globe reports that MIT is ending its fusion research program for money reasons, putting about 70 peple out of work and derailing a half-dozen graduate students (ouch). The story is here.

MIT's Alcator C-Mod tokamak reaction uses a magnetic field to contain plasma and try to smash particles together.

The story says the US goverment is shifting much of its fusion funding to ITER in France.

Fusion - creating energy by combining atoms instead of splitting them, as fission does - is, famously, an energy technology that has been 20 years away for the past half century; there are legitimate scientists who think pursuing it is a fool's game. This quote from the story probably could have been printed verbatim at any fusion research project in 1990 or 1970:

Maria Zuber, MIT’s vice president for research, said the loss of the program will hurt the country’s position in a critical field — one that won’t be producing energy in the short term, but could be critical in helping to diversify energy production over the next two decades.

On the other hand, if fusion worked it would be an energy breakthrough even bigger than fission atomic power, so perhaps it's worth the bad odds and cost. This piece published by Yale in 2010 provides a good overview. Here's a Forbes article about the field.