Fusion Road Show plays at ITER open doors day

May 29th 2018

DIFFER presented its Fusion Road Show science demos to over 700 visitors of the ITER open doors day on 26 May 2018. This special 15 minute edition of the science theatre show was designed as a memorable introduction into plasmas and fusion reactors. A great addition to the site tour, say both visitors and ITER staff.

Fusion Road Show at the ITER open doors day

In walking distance of the world's most advanced fusion experiment ever, a crowd of people is looking at a humming microwave oven. There's no food inside. And with the soot being produced as a side-effect, you wouldn't want to cook in this microwave ever again after science communicator Gieljan de Vries is done with it. "Don't try this at home" applies. After setting a wooden toothpick on fire, he has just produced a glowing ball of plasma in the microwave and captured it inside a pyrex beaker.

The microwave experiment is only of the live demo's that make up DIFFER's Fusion Road Show presentation for high schools and other audiences. The show's presenter explores the why and how of fusion energy and shows the audience how the basic principles in the show's experiments come back in the design of future fusion power plants. The Fusion Road Show was developed at DIFFER in 1999 and has reached tens of thousands with its engaging explanation of fusion energy.


The humming microwave plasma in its pyrex container is a cartoon of a fusion reactor, explains De Vries to his audience: "We're showing that you can heat a plasma from a distance using microwaves." With the audience still craning their necks to see the plasma discharge, he shuts down the experiment. "Even this discharge in a simple microwave oven can reach a temperature over 1000 degrees centigrade. Obviously, pyrex can't handle that kind of punishment for long, let alone ordinary glass. What material could? Or do we need to look at a different approach to build a fusion reactor?"

Out come more science demos about magnetic levitation, with as grand finale an experiment that shows how a glow discharge plasma responds to the field from a strong handheld magnet. "There you have it: we can shape plasmas with magnetic fields and keep them away from our reactor walls."

Using a kitchen microwave (don't try this at home!)
to create a live plasma discharge. (credit: ITER)

Demonstrating how a plasma reponds
to a magnetic field. (credit: ITER)

Introduction to the ITER site tour

The Fusion Road Show intentionally uses very common tools and materials to explain the principles of fusion reactors, says De Vries. "We've found that these basic tools draw the audience into the story; they're often more amazed seeing a plasma in a common microwave than in our custom built setup."

After the Fusion Road Show's lightning intro to fusion, the ITER open doors day offered its visitors a tour of the enormous Assembly Hall in which the components of ITER will be put together. For the first time ever, the open doors day offered the opportunity to step inside the concrete bioshield that will house the world's most advanced fusion experiment ever. Their consistent response: amazement at the scale of the tokamak reactor, and great appreciation for the chance to discuss how ITER will demonstrate the technical feasibility of fusion energy.

Inside ITER's bioshield, where the 30 meter high
tokamak fusion reactor will be assembled.
(credit: DIFFER / Gieljan de Vries)