Antti Snicker likes fast things. And he likes to hunt them. Maybe that is why the fusion scientist brought his two dogs when he moved to Germany. The Finn is pursuing his research on fast particles in fusion plasmas. He, his German Shorthaired Pointers Pisla and Elli and another EUROfusion fellow, Gergely ‘Geri’ Papp from Hungary, share an office at the Max-Planck-Institute for Plasma Physics in Garching (IPP). Antti and his dogs are about to continue their chase during the next two years with the support of a EUROfusion grant. By that time, Gergely Papp will end his time as a EUROfusion fellow – high time for Fusion in Europe to sum up what Geri has achieved and to check what the future might hold for Antti.

That is how a dog of a fusion researcher looks on its way to chasing fast elements. Picture: Eemeli Snicker

That is how a dog of a fusion researcher looks on its way to chasing fast elements. Picture: Eemeli Snicker

Dashing after ions and electrons

Antti and Geri share the same office. In fact, they are both investigating fast particles inside fusion plasmas. Geri tries to tame unpredictable electrons; Antti focuses on what keeps the fusion plasma hot: ions. Both particles are crucial for maintaining stable fusion plasmas. In the end, it’s an effective co-working space because sometimes Geri even dogsits for Antti.

Chasing beams

A hot plasma fuels the fusion experiments. The high temperature, between 100 and 200 million degrees Celsius, allows negatively charged electrons in the atoms to be freed from their parenting nuclei and consequently creates positively charged ions. The lonely electrons usually move around in the plasma, collide with other particles and cause no harm. But sometimes they start rushing uncontrollably along their race course and become what is known as “runaway electrons”. This is where Geri’s research comes in: “The runaway beam carries a significant amount of magnetic and kinetic energy, and if it hits the wall it can result in large localised heat loads,” he says. This may damage the walls of the tokamak.

Award winning research

After two years of research, Geri has come a step closer to solving the mystery of the runaways: “We have gathered a lot of data in order to validate models which should describe the phenomena properly, but now it’s time to test them on the machines.”

During his time as a EUROfusion fellow he became one of the scientific coordinators to lead an international experimental campaign at the medium-sized tokamaks ASDEX-Upgrade in Germany and Tokamak à Configuration Variable in Switzerland. His research on the tiny but powerful electrons has recently been awarded with the Károly Simonyi Memorial Plaque and Prize of the Hungarian Nuclear Society.

Scaling up to ITER

Antti and Geri aim to extrapolate their research to ITER. What they investigate on the European tokamaks should one day help to make the plasma of ITER a success; finally demonstrating that fusion energy is feasible. “A unique feature of EUROfusion is its ability to scale up the models and experiments. We can operate table-top tokamaks like Golem, then proceed to ASDEX-Upgrade, and then move on to running our experiments on JET, one of the largest operating tokamaks in the world”, states Geri.

Antti Snicker enjoys hunting in his spare time. The picture shows him with his dogs Elli and Pisla in his home country Finland. Picture: private

Antti Snicker enjoys hunting in his spare time. The picture shows him with his dogs Elli and Pisla in his home country Finland. Picture: private

Join the Round Table

“The EUROfusion grant allows young researchers to join a specialised team of senior experts. Without the fellowship, I guess, I would not have had the chance”, says Geri.

This is what also matters for his roommate Antti. The post graduate student who currently works as a post-doc at IPP will continue his research at EUROfusion’s Finnish Research Unit in June, supported by the EUROfusion grant. Antti will continue to chase the ions which are crucial for the plasma performance.

Not knowing enough

“As a post-doc I will be regarded already as an expert in my own field in Finland. But I know that I am not yet quite there. I still need the European exchange to get a lot of feedback and help. For example, here at IPP I am able to knock on a door of a colleague’s office and get a very specific answer. In Finland I would have to use Google Scholar, write an email or make a Skype call and it will always take a lot more time.”

Foot in the door

The passionate hunter enjoys not having to worry about funding or contracting over the next two years:

“I also appreciate that I have a foot in the door.

There are only a few fusion positions in Finland and I would love to pursue my career there”, he says. After two years of not seeing his wife much, he feels like it is time to come home. His dogs are eagerly waiting to chase through the Scandinavian woods again.

Meanwhile, Geri hopes to continue hunting for runaway electrons at IPP. He will probably miss his mates, Antti, Pisla and Elli.

The research of Geri Papp and Antti Snicker is supported by a EUROfusion fellowship which runs for two years. These grants are part of EUROfusion’s training and education initiative and designed to nurture the next generation of fusion experts. Every post-doc student in a fusion-related field may apply for this scholarship. The applicant needs to make sure that they find a working position at one of the EUROfusion labs. Every year, approximately 30 engineers and scientists are selected to receive support from the EUROfusion Researcher Grants and the EUROfusion Engineering Grants programmes. An total of 16 percent of EUROfusion’s budget is spent on Education and Training initiatives.