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A two-world experience

-Robert Arnoux

Sergei Putvinski, back to ITER after eight years in industry. (Click to view larger version...)
Sergei Putvinski, back to ITER after eight years in industry.
Sergei Putvinski was born and raised in Leningrad, and began his professional career at the Kurchatov Institute in Moscow. In 1991, he left what was still the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics to join JET and later the ITER Joint Work Site in San Diego. "Although all these years I've kept strong scientific connections with the Russian fusion program, I haven't spent much time in what is now the Russian Federation. But I do feel privileged to have experienced two completely different systems applied to the same country."

There are other things, rather unusual for a physicist, which Sergei has also experienced — like being a partner in a start-up company: "starting from scratch, developing and demonstrating a new concept for nuclear waste processing" and ending up with a working prototype but no clients. "A very rewarding experience" despite the commercial failure.

Sergei went into private industry in 1999 when the ITER site in San Diego closed following the US withdrawal from the program. "My sons were still in high school in the US, so I decided to stay."

A plasma specialist, Sergei joined the Japanese-born scientist Tihiro Ohkawa in a privately-funded nuclear waste plasma processing venture. "The process was based on mass separation. In two years, we were able to build a full-scale prototype and we demonstrated that the technology worked. I spent eight years on that project and learned a lot."

Sergei is a man of two worlds, and he brings that experience to ITER, which he joined less than two months ago as Senior Scientific Officer for Energetic Particle Physics. In his Soviet Union days, he had worked on T-10 and T-15 and had been involved in the design of T-14, a very high-field machine designed to be tritium-compatible. His time in America familiarized him with the industrial and financial challenges in a science project. He knows what it takes "to make it happen".


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