Universiteit Leiden

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Rubicon for ‘Artificial Sun’

Physicist Christopher Berg Smiet, who recently obtained his PhD in Leiden, has been awarded an NWO Rubicon. The grant allows him to conduct postdoctoral research for two years at the Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory (PPPL) in the United States.

In Princeton, Smiet will build on his current research in Leiden, where he investigates the structure of magnetic field lines in plasma. These are of vital importance for realizing nuclear fusion, which holds a huge promise for environmentally friendly energy. For decades, scientists have tried to trigger efficient nuclear fusion within an artificial sun; a hot donut made of plasma. The problem is that the temperature needs to be so high that any material would melt as soon as it touches the plasma. Therefore, the small sun needs to float in one way or another. To achieve this with the use of magnetic fields, we have to know as much as possible about the internal magnetic field lines.

Tied up

Using computer simulations, Smiet provides more insight into the behavior of field lines. For example, he sees them being all tied up under specific circumstances, and consequentially holding the plasma neatly together, like a chain lock. In this way, no external magnetic field is required. Just gas pressure suffices to keep the small sun in place. Smiet: ‘During my PhD research I only looked at the shape of the magnetic field, but there are many more factors in play, such as temperature, pressure and size. I want to explore those during my postdoc. PPPL is the perfect place for that, because many fusion experts from lots of different areas are working there.’


NWO awards Rubicon grants to researchers who recently obtained their PhD to conduct research of their own choice at renowned institutes abroad. Smiet receives a Rubicon based on his proposal ‘Topology for nuclear fusion’.

Leiden University is granted two Rubicon awards in this round.

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