April 21, 2024

Daniel Korsun studied at MIT as an undergraduate and was prepared to research fusion magnet design.

That was your warmup. “Now we’re in the thick of things.”

Daniel Korsun ’20 reflects on his undergraduate research and preparation at MIT as he begins graduate studies at the Institute’s Plasma Science and Fusion Centre (PSFC). The student’s “warmup,” which included fusion research using the SPARC tokamak, was enough to make him a member of the PSFC.

He says with excitement, “I have this network of professors, peers and staff.” “I have been training for this since four years.”

Korsun, who arrived at the MIT campus prepared to concentrate on chemistry in 2016, quickly became fascinated by the nuclear side. He opted to postpone a course requirement for his undergraduate degree to attend Professor Mike Short’s class on Introduction to Nuclear Science. He was “super-hooked” by fusion energy, a carbon-free, potentially unlimited power source.

Korsun learned from Monica Pham ’19 that the PSFC offered an Undergraduate Research Opportunity (UROP) for the summer. He applied and soon found himself working in the accelerator lab operated jointly by the Department of Nuclear Science and Engineering.

I’ve always been interested in renewable energy, solar technology, and climate change. “When I got to the PSFC and saw what they were doing, nothing compared.”

During his junior year, Korsun could continue his research passion at the PSFC, which led him to MIT’s SuperUROP program for undergraduates. Korsun, guided by NSE Assistant Prof Zach Hartwig and graduate students, was learning about fusion research, which remains his primary focus today. This included SPARC, a prototype for ARC, and a planned energy-producing fusion furnace.

These two tokamaks are being developed jointly by MIT and Commonwealth Fusion Systems (CFS), relying on a game-changing, high-temperature, superconducting tape (HTS). The magnets from the video will be used to wrap around the donut-shaped vacuum compartment of the tokamak containing the hot plasma.

Korsun explores the effect of radiation produced during the fusion process on the HTS cassettes. To do this, he must test the critical currents of the tapes. This is the maximum current a superconductor will conduct in its superconducting condition. Radiation damage affects the ability of superconductors to carry current. The critical current changes with the amount they have been irradiated.

He notes that “you can irradiate everything at room temperature.” “You can blast it with neutrons or protons.” This information could be more beneficial because the SPARC and ARC magnetic materials will operate at cryogenic temperatures and in potent magnetic fields. What if the low temperatures and strong magnetic fields impact how the material reacts to damage?”

As a student, he and his team traveled to Japan and New Zealand to use the special facilities available to test HTS tape’s critical current under appropriate conditions. On our Japan trip, we performed the first-ever tests of HTS at the SPARC toroidal magnetic field and temperature at Tohoku University’s High Field Laboratory for Superconducting Materials. The trip was exhausting — we worked in the lab for 15 to 16 hours daily.

Korsun’s graduation was virtually assured because he had to leave campus during his senior year to comply with the COVID-19 Lockdown.

It could have been better. “I’m not someone who would sit on my parent’s couch for six-months.”

He took advantage of his summer to secure a virtual internship with CFS. There, he refined ARC’s designs based on the lessons learned from SPARC.

The amount of knowledge gained in the last five years is unimaginable.

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