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“There is no lone genius who solves all the problems.”

Dennis Whyte, director of the Plasma Science and Fusion Center (PSFC), is reflecting on a guiding belief behind his nuclear science and engineering class 22.63 (Principles of Fusion Engineering). He has recently watched his students, working in teams, make their final presentations on how to use fusion technology to create carbon-free fuel for shipping vessels. Since taking on the course over a decade ago, Whyte has moved away from standard lectures, prodding the class to work collectively on finding solutions to “real-world” issues. Over the past years the course, and its collaborative approach to design, has been instrumental in guiding the real future of fusion at the PSFC.

For decades researchers have explored fusion, the reaction that powers the sun, as a potential source of virtually endless, carbon-free energy on Earth. MIT has studied the process with a series of “Alcator” tokamaks, compact machines that use high magnetic fields to keep the hot plasma inside and away from the walls of a donut-shaped vacuum vessel long enough for fusion to occur. But understanding how plasma affects tokamak materials, and making the plasma dense and hot enough to sustain fusion reactions, has been elusive.

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