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Throughout his long career Jean Jacquinot, the former director of JET and of French magnetic fusion research, has attended many conferences. But there is one he will always remember—the third Conference on Plasma Physics and Controlled Nuclear Fusion Research held fifty years ago in Novosibirsk.
Fusion was a young science then and fusion devices, whether "mirror machines," "zeta pinch," "levitrons," or "superstators," were rather primitive and their results almost always disappointing.
In Novosibirsk, Lev Artsimovitch, the head of Russian fusion research, announced that in their T-3 and TM-3 machines, plasma temperatures of 10 million degrees and energy confinement time in excess of 20 milliseconds had been measured—a full order of magnitude above the best results anyone had obtained so far.
"It was hard to believe, it was like being struck by lightning," remembers Jacquinot. "I recollect overhearing a conversation between Artsimovitch and Gotlieb, his Princeton counterpart. Gotlieb, like everyone, was convinced that it couldn't be true—that the Russians had been tricked by something, most probably runaway electrons."
They hadn't. Their "toroidal chamber with magnetic coils," or "tokamak," had demonstrated exceptional efficiency. When the results were confirmed by an independent team from the UK, the fusion world converted to the new device's architecture.
Over the following fifty years and up to this day tokamaks have been true to their promise and ruled supreme on the fusion world.