Winner of the 2019 Kyushu University Itoh Project Prize for his work on plasma physics, Til Ulmann, a doctoral course student at the University of Stuttgart, made his first trip to Japan earlier this year to receive his prize, give lectures, and explore opportunities for collaborative research.
President Chiharu Kubo presented a certificate to Ulmann at an award ceremony on January 17, 2020, which was also attended by Prof. Akihide Fujisawa, who coordinated the judging for the prize, and Prof. Shigeru Inagaki from Kyushu University’s Research Institute of Applied Mechanics.
Bestowed by the Division of Plasma Physics of the European Physical Society, the prize was established in 2005 by late Professor Emeritus Sanae-I. Itoh of Kyushu University, which sponsors the prize, to recognize doctoral course students who make distinguished physics achievements in the fields of plasma turbulence, transport, and confinement.
These fields are critical for the realization of future power plants that use nuclear fusion reactions to produce electricity. Fusion energy is extremely attractive as a clean energy source because it has the potential to provide a huge amount of energy from a small amount of fuel without producing carbon dioxide or the long-lived radioactive nuclear wastes that are generated by current nuclear reactors, which use a process called nuclear fission.
The winner of the prize, which is co-organized by the Institute of Physics Publishing, UK, is invited to Kyushu University for lectures and collaborative research. Former recipients are now actively involved in their own research fields worldwide.
Ulmann is the 15th winner of the prize and is working on multi-channel measurement of turbulence in a plasma-confinement device at the University of Stuttgart named TJ-K. Confining a plasma—an extremely hot, ionized gas in which fusion takes place—is one of the key challenges to sustaining the fusion process for energy generation, and researchers have been primarily focusing on two types of designs—termed stellarator and tokamak—to achieve this confinement.
In a turbulent plasma, many kinds of waves interact with each other, repeating creation and annihilation, to maintain the turbulence. Ulmann has been observing the processes accurately and precisely in TJ-K, a stellarator-type device, to obtain new insight into the role of turbulence in plasma confinement.
This was the first time that Ulmann visited Japan. Before the visit, he studied Japanese history and was looking forward to experiencing a different culture. During his stay in Fukuoka, he enjoyed backpacking around islands in the Hakata Bay, where the Mongol invasions of Japan took place in 13th century.
He also visited the National Institute for Fusion Science in Tajimi City, Gifu Prefecture, which owns a stellarator—called the Large Helical Device (LHD)—that is one of the largest in the world and of comparable size to Germany’s W7X. Ulmann hopes to come back Japan soon to work on collaborative research with Kyushu University.
“We sincerely wish that the prize contributes to serve the growth of young scientists who will carry the field of plasma and controlled fusion in the future,” said Fujisawa, who coordinated judging of posters at the European Physical Society Conference on Plasma Physics to determine the prize winner.