Fusion Energy Research Pathway

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Hello all,

I have a community college student who is deciding on his major. He is really interested in Fusion energy and wants to pursue that path. He was in the Engineering Program and now, after doing some research, believes he should be in the physics program (A.S. degree in Physics). The student also found that the jobs in Nuclear Fusion require a PhD in Plasma Physics or a related field. Does this seem right? Should he be in the physics program? The other question we have is that he needs to select one of the following courses to fill his academic plan: Advanced Java, Python, or Linear Algebra. Which would be more helpful for him in his academic career? Thank you!

Gamma.
 
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They might look into UW Madison if they are interested in doing fusion research.

The student also found that the jobs in Nuclear Fusion require a PhD in Plasma Physics or a related field. Does this seem right?
yes.
 
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They might look into UW Madison if they are interested in doing fusion research.



yes.
The student is in MD and prefers to be in MD. But, I understand that thinking outside of the state will expand the opportunities.
 
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The student is in MD and prefers to be in MD.
Well, 43 years ago when faced with the same decision I chose to pull up and move. I found the UW physics department to be warm, welcoming and rewarding place to learn and grow, even for a student with obvious issues like myself. The reality of it is one must move to were the work and talent are. UW was an excellent choice for plasma physics at that time. There are certainly others.
 
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The student is in MD and prefers to be in MD. But, I understand that thinking outside of the state will expand the opportunities.
It would seem there are two major institutions with suitable programs.

UMD, College Park and Johns Hopkins U, Baltimore.

https://umdphysics.umd.edu/research/research-areas/plasma-physics.html

https://physics-astronomy.jhu.edu/research-areas/plasma-spectroscopy/
There were plasma physics courses and a group listed but those pages are no longer valid.

Looking outside the state would expand one's options.
For example - https://plasma.princeton.edu/ - relatively near.

The other question we have is that he needs to select one of the following courses to fill his academic plan: Advanced Java, Python, or Linear Algebra. Which would be more helpful for him in his academic career?
Learning a programming language and the appropriate levels of math are important. Particular courses depend on what aspect of fusion engineering in which one is interested.

One would find work in the modeling and simulation of the plasma under normal (intended) fusion conditions and also with respect to transients. Other areas include heating and control of the plasma, plasma diagnostics, and similar work with the system and components, e.g., magnets (confinement system), the support structure, heat/energy transfer systems, . . . There are always scientific and technical challenges to address.
 
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The student also found that the jobs in Nuclear Fusion require a PhD in Plasma Physics or a related field. Does this seem right? Should he be in the physics program?
I am not sure these days. Surely jobs in research, and even higher administration may need a doctoral degree in plasma physics, but careers as technicians, and operators, machinists, possibly diagnosticians, may not. I am just not sure, and I have not been keeping up on whether these "hands-on" jobs are plentiful.

Does the CC actually have a physics program, so to speak? Perhaps, the question should be, if the student remains in the engineering program, will he be looked on favorably when he transfers to a four year institution to graduate with a BS. No matter what four year institution he selects, he will need background physics courses, especially, electromagnetic theory, before graduating with a BS, and nuclear engineering or nuclear physics, and most likely, transport theory (often an engineering course), in graduate school.

I took a quick survey of plasma physics area on the internet. Almost all are in the physics department, but some are not exclusively there. Berkeley, Georgia Tech, Princeton, and Cal Tech seem to have programs outside of physics. Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, and North Carolina State seem to put plasma physics in the EE department and Mechanical engineering department respectively. I believe there may be others. It is likely a well qualified candidate in engineering would have as likely a chance of acceptance as a well qualified candidate in physics at many institutions.

I figure that you know your CC better than we do. Do you feel the engineering program is preparing (or can it prepare) the student with the mathematics and physics to enter into the 4 year college or university, or should he switch to physics, will the physics program prepare him better?

As to whether he should learn Java, Python, or linear algebra. Any 4 year school will require linear algebra and a lot more mathematics. As far as I know, advanced Java is not used much in nuclear engineering, although I do note Numerical Recipes does have a Java edition. Scientific Python I hear a lot about, but I do not think it is worth stressing at the CC level for advanced work in plasma physics. There is plenty of time to learn that later. Linear algebra and math methods is the way to go.
 
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I'm doing a PhD in plasma physics applied to fusion but I would say that it's a very multidisciplinary area with materials science (particularly superconductivity and radiation damage) probably just as relevant as the more 'pure' plasma physics stuff, and many different engineering specialisms are also involved and may be a better path to actually working in fusion than pursuing a physics PhD. Even on the more theoretical/plasma-oriented side a plasma physics PhD is not strictly necessary - my supervisor did his PhD in quantum chaos - but it is obviously a very common route.

For any kind of computational work in fusion, linear algebra would actually be much more important to learn than any particular programming language at this point, but it's good to get familiar with python which is used a lot for lighter work and data analysis. C++ and Fortran are the main languages for more heavy-duty simulation work.
 
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