Posted on: 10th September 2015

How far can childhood fantasies take you? In the case of EUROfusion fellow Gergely (Geri) Papp, they paved way for his career as a fusion researcher. Geri, who was (and still is) a great fan of science fiction, learnt that there is nothing fictional about the fusion reactors that he came across so often in the pages of science fiction. He went on to pursue physics first at the Budapest University of Technology (BME), Hungary, and then joined a PhD programme conducted by BME and Chalmers University in Sweden. “Part of the reason why I became a physicist is that I wanted to work with fusion,” he says.

Geri currently works at the Max Planck Institute for Plasma Physics, which houses the mid-sized tokamak ASDEX-Upgrade. “It’s a fantastic machine to work with because it allows you to plan and execute experiments on a relatively shorter time-scale as compared to larger experiments and at the same time gives results that are crucial,” he informs.

One of the projects that Geri works on involves what is known as runaway electrons. “In a fusion reactor we have a vacuum filled with a few grams of plasma that is about 100 million degrees hot,” he says. “Under special circumstances, part of the thermal and magnetic energy contained in this plasma can be focused and converted to high energy electrons. This can cause localised heat loads on the plasma facing components. Our goal is to better understand the formation process of such electrons and to design a safety system to either eliminate its generation or mitigate it if it is formed,” he explains.

From planning and executing experiments to developing theoretical models, implementing numerical codes, teaching, publishing scientific papers and giving talks, the life of a fusion researcher can be full and exciting. But the ultimate motivator for Geri is the vision of realising fusion energy. “We need energy, and more specifically electricity, for almost everything we do. When fusion is realised it will be as close as possible to an ideal energy source: clean, safe, abundant, accessible, and controllable.” And, the fact that power from fusion might be decades away does little to dampen Geri’s enthusiasm. “It took humankind more than 6,000 years to learn how to fly or build computers, even if it takes an extra 50 years to realise fusion power, I can live with that.”

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..