Tuesday, 21 October 2014

KIT summer school 2014

This year 74 people new to Fusion Research went to the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT) in Germany for the yearly 2-week holiday…ahem... I mean Summer School on Fusion Technology. There were people there from all over Europe, but also people from as far away as India. There were 17 of us going from Culham, 10 graduates, 1 PhD student, and 6 experienced engineers/physicists (semi-) new to the field of Fusion. 
Image courtesy of KIT
It was a chance to learn some basics about plasma physics, the politics and future of fusion, technology used in the industry and other tokamaks across the world. It was also a chance for eating good food, drinking good beer and general partying (ahem…I mean networking). We had some very good lectures and tours at KIT, but I’m not going to bore you with details of everything, so I’ll just give you some highlights. 

Our first lecture of the school was CCFE’s very own David Ward, a pioneer for the role of fusion in future energy. He reminded us of the massive problems the world faces with respect to energy, and how little is being spent on new energy research.  Personally I was struck by how often people doing research into Fusion claim that too much is being spent on other renewables and not enough on Fusion, and vice versa- people doing research into solar or wind power often have the opinion that too much is being spent on Fusion. The reality seems to be that nowhere near enough money is being spent on any of it, and instead of attacking each other, we should be advertising this fact. Anyway enough of that because David has inspired a new blog post on this subject- coming soon.

All of this learning was pretty exhausting, so we decided to let off some steam by going to the local water park ‘Europabad’. There were some awesome slides, including one where you stand in a pod, press ‘go’, a countdown begins and then the floor disappears and you are *dropped* vertically down a slide. It was great. There is a random YouTube video here https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0PqooMXBr1Q

Back to school: after some introductory plasma physics, we headed straight for the deep end, and got up to speed on the latest on plasma heating and diagnostics, breeder blanket designs, divertors and neutronics. In between lectures we had some great tours of the KIT site. In the first week we went to the Test Blanket Module (TBM) facilities and learned about the research they are doing for ITER. We also saw the HELOKA facility, which is designed for testing various components for nuclear fusion facilities including the ITER test blanket modules and divertor modules, and the High Flux Test Modules for IFMIF (International Fusion Material Irradiation Facility). Here are some of the Culham Engineers next to the big vacuum vessel they use.

We were staying in the Jugendherberge (Youth Hostel ) which was very close to the city centre (and the huge beautiful park). However, this meant that there was a 10km journey to the KIT north campus every day. There was a free bus which was great, but a few of us decided to make use of the amazing bicycle paths through the forest all the way to the campus and hired bikes for the duration of the school. Here is a selfie Jon C took while enjoying a nice pootle through the forest. Great idea until Germany decided to rain (pour) on us. We got soaked and Jon K got a puncture and had to walk 6km in the rain. A large Weissbier was required after that. 

At the weekend the KIT organisers had arranged for us to go on an excursion to a nice town called Speyer. I think they knew exactly what kind of people we were because after eating the biggest pretzels you’ve even seen, and looking at the nice cathedral with pretzel decorations (they like their pretzels), we went to the Technic Museum Speyer. They had a “large collection of aircraft, classic cars, locomotives and fire engines, some of the highlights are an original BURAN spaceshuttle, the largest space flight exhibition in Europe, a Boeing 747 Jumbo Jet, the submarine U9, a former German Navy submarine and a gigantic Ukrainian Antonov AN-22 cargo plane.”  This, plus 70 engineering enthusiasts resulted in the most excited group of geeks you can imagine. When Jon saw the moon-rock we thought he might implode, and we had to drag Greggles out of the submarine so we could go on the slide from the Jumbo jet.  If the day wasn’t good enough already, we then we sent off to taste some wine from the Rhine valley, and had a large buffet dinner. An epic day out was had by all.

The following week we were taught about tritium handling, vacuum pumping, superconducting magnets and remote handling. We learnt about various tokamaks around the world – Tore Supra (France), JT-60SA (Japan), ASDEX (Germany), Wendelstein 7-X (stellerator, Germany) and ITER.  These were interspersed with nice sunny evenings in the park (with a 1.30 Euro beer from the student bar), some slacklining and juggling and Chinese takeaway. Not forgetting Scruffys the Irish bar which specialised in live music and J├Ągermeister.

Another tour around KIT gave us the opportunity to see TOSKA, where they are doing tests on scaled-down versions of the ITER superconducting magnets, the cryogenic test facility (CryoMaK) and the tritium lab. We also got to have a go on the remote handling arms, and to play with liquid nitrogen using a glove box. 

On our final day we welcomed CCFE’s Nick Balshaw and Liz Surrey who spoke to us about JET and DEMO respectively - two fantastic talks to finish the school with (unbiased of course).  We went away feeling enthused and happy and at least 5 pounds heavier.

I asked attendees to give me two facts that they took away from our experience in Germany, one about fusion and one about Germany. If you’re thinking of attending KIT next year these will be useful! Link here.

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