Predicting Tungsten’s Role in Powering the Future

A cross-section view of plasma (hotter yellow to cooler blues and purples) as it interacts with the tungsten surface of fusion. Some of these interactions can degrade the tungsten surface and deplete the fusion reaction over time. Image courtesy of Tim Younkin, University of Tennessee.

That small filament inside a light bulb may look fragile, but it’s made of one of the toughest substances on earth: tungsten.

With the highest melting point of any pure metal, it’s not just useful for light bulbs, but also for future fusion reactors. Despite the as-yet-unsolved scientific and engineering challenges to making fusion a viable energy source, it continues to hold great promise for a sustainable energy future.

However, studying fusion must happen alongside the construction of fusion reactors. ITER, which means “The Way” in Latin and is the world’s largest fusion experiment, is expected to be under construction until 2025. So, for now, fusion experiments relevant to this future device must be conducted via simulation in a laboratory environment with the aid of high-performance computing.

A recent study published in ASCR Discovery by UT-Oak Ridge National Laboratory Governor’s Chair for Computational Nuclear Engineering Brian Wirth and his research team used supercomputing to simulate the behavior of tungsten when it comes into contact with the fusion plasma.

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