Posted on: 24th August 2015

Continuing the series of profiles highlighting young fusion researchers: get to know EUROfusion fellow Mélanie Preynas.

When it comes to states of matter, the fourth state, plasma, is not as widely known as solid, liquid or gas, but it is the most abundant form of matter in the Universe, and is crucial to nuclear fusion. One ingredient, for a successful experiment in a fusion device like a tokamak, is a well-behaved and stable plasma, but achieving good behaviour and stability in plasma is not trivial. And, this is one of the things that Mélanie Preynas, one of the EUROfusion Research Fellows, tackles: her work aims at controlling in real time what is known as ‘magnetohydrodynamic’ instabilities in the plasma.

Simply put, magnetohydrodynamics refers to the study of the magnetic properties of electrically conducting fields such as plasma. “To achieve stability and good performance of the plasma, we have to control it in real time,” says Mélanie. “One possibility is to launch microwaves into the vessel of the tokamak containing the plasma in order to generate heating and current drive in a correct way for plasma stabilization and performance improvement of the fusion experiment,” she explains.

Mélanie, who is currently working at the Swiss Plasma Center of the École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne, discovered the world of fusion research during an internship at the Institute of Magnetic Fusion Research at the CEA Cadarache Center in France. The idea of being able to get a new energy source is what initially drew Mélanie to fusion research. Once in, she was excited by the multidisciplinary nature of this field. “It’s a mix of theoreticians and experimentalists working with technicians and engineers to get and understand experimental results of the fusion device,” she says.

And, Mélanie found out that research in fusion is more than just about working on tokamaks. “I may spend time in my office analysing experimental data, or an entire day in the control room of the fusion device during an experimental campaign or making some calibration of a measurement system on the machine,” she points out.

The life of a young researcher in fusion can be exciting and fun, but it is competitive admits Mélanie. But, she is looking ahead and she hopes to continue working for fusion research in the future.

Background about the EUROfusion Researcher Fellowships

EUROfusion Researcher Fellowships, which are part of EUROfusion’s training and education initiatives, are designed to nurture the next generation of fusion experts. And, each year approximately 30 engineers and scientists are selected for receiving the grants through the EUROfusion Researcher Grants and the EUROfusion Engineering Grants programmes..