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Making the plasma work

-Sabina Griffith

Joe Snipes (Click to view larger version...)
Joe Snipes
God moves in mysterious ways. It was an article about thermonuclear fusion entitled "God's Big Fix," published in Playboy back in November 1974, that made Joe Snipes curious about fusion - a curiosity that has not diminished since. Not in the least.

Joe Snipes joined the ITER team in Cadarache in July 2008 as Senior Scientific Officer for Integrated Scenarios. This essentially means that once the machine is up and running, he will drive it. Or, as he puts it, "make the plasma work." Keeping in mind that ITER will be the biggest and most sophisticated tokamak ever built, it sounds like Joe has a challenging job on his hands. But he has come a long way — "it was quite a roller coaster ride over the years"- and he seems to be well prepared. "I got a pretty good education!"

Joe was born in Atlanta, Georgia, USA. He received a Bachelor's degree in Physics from the University of Chicago where as an undergraduate he worked at the Enrico Fermi Institute. He then moved to the University of Texas at Austin for his PhD in Plasma Physics, and worked on the TEXT tokamak. From there he moved on to Europe, to the JET facility in Culham, UK, "looking for a place that really did fusion." An Italian lady then convinced him to investigate the Italian fusion landscape, which he proceeded to do for a few years in Latium. He returned to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in Boston where he helped develop a lithium-pellet injector for the Tokamak Fusion Test Reactor at Princeton. From there he went on to operate the newly built Alcator C-Mod at MIT. And last summer, he packed up his suitcase again and moved to southern France.

As Officer for Integrated Scenarios, Joe interfaces with many other disciplines such as power supply, diagnostics and fuelling — hence the "integrated" in his title. It will be his job to tune the machine so that it reaches a power amplification factor of 10 (Q ≥10) with a net power output of 500 MW. In order to achieve this ambitious goal, Joe currently compares the results of computer model scenarios with experimental data gained from operating machines. "It is very hard to predict how ITER will behave." One day, he will see it with his own eyes -"I am young enough to hope to see a deuterium-tritium reaction in ITER."


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