A Glass of Seawater – Podcast

The #fusionenergy podcast! All about nuclear fusion energy research in lively conversations between PhD researchers from the Fusion CDT and other experts!

Let us introduce all the science you need to understand the field. Then listen to us explore the burning energy (and space, astrophysics and medical) research questions and answers of fusion energy, plasma physics and materials science. Follow the podcast on itunes, apps and facebook; @glassofseawater on twitter for daily #fusionenergy research news and @aglassofseawater on instagram to see our outreach and scicomm work! Winners of the Institute of Physics (IOP) Rutherford Plasma Physics Communication Prize 2019.

Our first set S1 is a whistlestop tour of nuclear fusion as a physics process in the first episode; relating that to producing energy over the next two. We talk about forces, achieving fusion, goals of the energy mission and summarise some of the key pros and cons of our approach.

We go live to launch with a conversation in front of a British Science Week audience about how long fusion energy is taking – 30 years of fusion progress!

The second set S2 are a series of spotlights on plasma physics and fusion energy research themes. We will cover the work of our group of UK universities on magnetic confinement fusion, laser inertial confinement fusion, the materials science in extreme nuclear environments we need and the other uses of plasma in astrophysics (space) and medical applications. Don’t worry if it feels like a rush of headlines – we’ll be coming back to everything mentioned and much more as topics of episodes.

These taken together give you the science background, the rest are conversations – between us and with experts we meet – about the questions raised in the first few episodes and covering as many aspects of and ideas in plasma physics and fusion energy as we can think of!

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S1E1 – Fusion?

Into this glass we poured everything we know about nuclear physics – the processes and demands of nuclear fusion in nature. Barely enough for a meniscus, so we did some reading to top it up. Then we talked about the sun and the destruction of our galaxy. We’re ‘glass half full’ people deep down.

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S1E2 – Knowledge is Power

We stirred into this glass all the extra bits of garnish that make nuclear physics knowledge useful! We get strict about criteria and chat about the bottom line(s) for harnessing the energy. How are we going to boil our seawater? Tea tastes better from a glass anyway I’m told.

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S1E3 – More Knowledge is More Power

Ok this one’s a tall glass so we’re continuing where we left off talking about the serious side of working with nuclear things. How we’re going to meet the criteria we were talking, including shortcuts. We close these intros with a number of ‘promising’ tangents to tease future episodes for you!

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Our launch party (coinciding with British Science Week 2018) included this episode recorded in front of a live public audience. We discuss 30 years of fusion progress – the things we’ve learned, the hiccoughs, the tangents and whether ‘why is it 30 years away?’ is a good question. Join the crowd!

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S2E1 – Talk-o-mak

We’re back! New glass, same seawater. A neat trick if you think about it. We’re kicking off with the favourite glass – favourite to win that is. This episode is a spotlight on magnetic confinement fusion. It’s the route to fusion farthest along and often involves tokamaks (which we focus on for simplicity… for now!)

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S2E2 – Now for Something Completely Laser

This time our glass is positively effervescent – filled with High Energy Density Physics. To Will’s delight, we finally recorded an episode on laser fusion. In this episode we give an overview of Inertial Confinement Fusion with help from one of our fabulous academics: Dr Kate Lancaster.

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S2E3 – Blood, Sweat and Materials Science

Never mind the seawater. Today it’s all about the glass and its materials. What happens in the challenging environments of a fusion reactor? Does the glass even exist yet? And maybe there’s some other material questions to be answered…

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S2E4 – 99 Percent of Nearly Everything

The last glass in our set: what can we do with plasma besides fusion energy? The answers will include fundamental physics, manufacturing, medicine and space tech… and we’re just getting started. What better teaser to keep listening as we start our focus episodes?!

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S3E1 – The Basics of high power lasers

Newcomers Chris and Sarah join Bhavin and Will to talk about lasers and the technology that goes into them. Also why lasers are so important and a brief look into some of their many applications.

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S3E2 – Nobel Prize: CPA explained

This time Will, Charlie, Kate and new-comer Chris M have gathered to talk about this year’s Nobel Prize Winner: Chirped Pulse Amplification. We break down exactly what this technological breakthrough was and why it was so important. Then we look to the future to consider what might be the next big step in high power laser science.

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S3E3 – A Glass of Seawater?

If you’ve been wondering why would we call ourselves a glass of seawater, you’re in for a treat. Today Bhavin, Tom and Michail discuss how much fuel for the fusion reaction can be taken from a glass of seawater. And how much energy that could produce. The answer may surprise you.

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S3E4 – Jim Al-Khalili SciComm Special

For our anniversary episode we sat down with Prof Jim Al-Khalili! We talked about science communication (scicomm) with him and Dr Lancaster – their motivation, experiences and how to talk about complex research topics like fusion energy. Every bit as good as Radio 4 ‘s The Life Scientific!

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S3E5 – Plasma Thrusters for Space

How can we use plasma jets for propulsion? Scott’s been working on using fusion fuel as rocket technology for cubesats (satellites). We talk about Hall effect and photon thrusters too. Plasma fusion rocket science, it’s not exactly rocket science is it?

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S3E6 – A Day in the PhD Life

Most of us have an impression of what student life is like but maybe not that of a PhD student. This episode we have Sam, Helen, Tiantian and Emma to shed some light on the secret life of a Physics PhD student, their experiences and what they’ve learnt along the way. We chat about the love/hate relationship with research and the scary potential of life away from academia!

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S3E7 Fusion Energy: Nuclear Waste Not, Want Not?

Nuclear energy expertise from fusion and fission combines in this episode to talk about the nuclear waste from fusion reactor designs. Where does it come from? How do we avoid making any? How do we manage the stockpile? We discuss how this key selling point for fusion energy informs our research – if the Chernobyl mini-series has you worried, let us explain how waste is dealt with!

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S3E8 – Superconductors

Magnets are mission critical to magnetic confinement nuclear fusion energy and find their way into laser fusion too. Understanding the strongest magnetic fields using near-absolute zero temperature materials science would be great. But we dont. So here we talk about what we do know, how we control the world’s biggest superconducting magnets we have and where the physics research is going next!

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S4E1 – Laser Fusion Schemes

A second round on laser fusion energy ignition research! Here we discuss advanced ignition schemes and big laser facilities. We also get to have a closer look at what Phil, Will and Kate actually do.

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S4E2 – STEPisode

UK nuclear fusion energy got a big budget boost last year as designs for a power plant prototype were commissioned – a project called STEP. We sit down with UKAEA CEO Ian Chapman tasked with overseeing it and dig into what it takes to turn fusion research from physics experiment to commercial reality.

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S4E3 – Routes to Ignition

The concept of ignition in inertial confinement fusion is super important – we need to produce enough heat to ignite our fuel and get lots of fusion reactions (and therefore energy) out of it. We speak with Professor Riccardo Betti about the approaches to moving towards ignition, how you know it’s happened and what needs to be done before we can get there. 

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