In the summer of 2013, three FIU students –Omar Leon, Carlos Lopez and Pierre Avila– members of the university’s prestigious Ronald E. McNair Post, traveled to England through the support of the program to work on a proton detector project at the Culham Centre for Fusion Energy (CCFE). All three are physics students, with Lopez also studying electrical engineering.
CCFE, owned and operated by the United Kingdom Atomic Energy Authority, is the UK’s national laboratory for fusion research. Located just south of Oxford, CCFE’s international fusion research and development is centered on an innovative MAST (Mega Amp Spherical Tokamak) program, which is funded by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council and the European Union.
CCFE also hosts the world’s largest magnetic fusion experiment, JET (Joint European Torus), which brings together scientists from around Europe and beyond to conduct research.
In the words of Pierre Avila:
We worked on a diagnostic system in conjunction with FIU’s College of Arts and Sciences Department of Physics Professor Werner Boeglin and Ph.D. graduate student Ramona Valenzuela Perez that detects nuclear reaction products (protons and tritons) emitted by the MAST plasma.
The MAST is a large machine that creates plasmas, a gas heated to such a high temperature that the gas atoms lose their electrons and both ions and electrons can move freely through space. As an example, the sun and all stars are composed of plasma.
The plasmas we research are also hot enough that when plasma particles collide they can ‘stick’ together in a process called nuclear fusion, which produces heavier nuclei and other reaction products. The protons that are emitted during such a fusion reaction are recorded by our equipment. From measuring these recorded reactions, we hope to be able to study where and under what conditions fusion reactions take place in the plasma. The overall objective of fusion research is to one day create plasmas that can be used as a sustainable energy source.
In addition to the fusion research that Avila and his colleagues conducted at CCFE, he and his fellow students also gained some significant lifelong lessons, such as:
1. Always ask your colleagues if they can ride bicycle before renting bicycles for the entire trip. They may not speak up about it.
2. If you can’t understand what an English train worker is saying, don’t assume that means you don’t have to pay for the train ticket.
3. Some of your colleagues may be afraid of cats with bells attached to their collar.
4. Also remember to check with your colleagues so see if waking them up can result in a frenzied attack. It may be hazardous to your health.
And finally, when in a foreign country, always take the opportunity to meet and acquaint yourself with new people.