Nuclear fusion is the power source of the Sun and the Stars that combines lighter elements into heavier ones and releases a tremendous amount of energy. Such a primordial fire, if successfully kindled on earth in a controlled manner, could provide us with a limitless supply of safe and clean energy. The quest for such a Starfire â€“ the holy grail of fusion research â€“ has a long and checkered history and continues to be one of the most exciting scientific challenges of our time. In this talk I will start with a basic introduction to fusion and then trace the various challenges and scientific achievements of fusion research in the course of its exciting history over the past fifty years. The primary focus will be on the magnetic confinement approach to fusion where tokamaks (which confine plasmas in a toroidal magnetic trap) have made the most spectacular progress and lead the race towards providing a core for the first demonstration fusion reactor. The largest tokamak in the world called ITER â€“ a collaborative effort of seven international partners including India â€“ is presently under construction in France and promises to provide the crucial next step forward in paving the way for a future reactor. However, the road ahead towards attaining commercial fusion power is still beset with many technological challenges and uncertainties arising from policy priorities of different countries. I will discuss our own national roadmap for fusion energy development that hopes to leverage our scientific experience while adopting a strategy that aims to meet our energy needs in a synergistic way with our nuclear power program.
Prof. Abhijit Sen obtained his B.Sc. from St. Xaviers College, Ahmedabad and his MS and Ph.D. from the University of Tennessee, U.S.A. After a period of postdoctoral work at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory, U.S.A., he joined the Plasma Physics Group at the Physical Research Laboratory, Ahmedabad in 1970. In 1986, he moved to the Institute for Plasma Research (IPR), Gandhinagar, where he served as a Dean and also held the IPR S. Chandrasekhar Chair Professorship. His research interests are in the areas of basic plasma physics and non-linear dynamical systems with applications to thermonuclear fusion, space plasmas and complex systems. He has authored over 190 research papers and is a recipient of the INSA Young Scientist Award (1976). He is a Fellow of the INSA, the Indian Academy of Sciences, and the APS. He is a past President of the Gujarat Science Academy and is currently an INSA Senior Scientist and Emeritus Professor at IPR.