Hard talk at SOFT with Maurizio Gasparotto
Hard talk at SOFT with Maurizio Gasparotto
With ITER being high on the agenda at this year’s Symposium on Fusion Technology (SOFT), I decided to catch up with Maurizio Gasparotto, Chief Engineer at the ITER Department, for some fusion hard talk.
Presumably you have attended plenty of times before SOFT.
How would you say it has changed over the years?
I have attended almost 18 SOFT events so far and also acted as member of the organising committee. I dare you to start calculating how long ago it has been since the first time I started attending this event! It is a unique opportunity that brings together the fusion community and helps us understand better where we stand, what progress is done and what are the new challenges that we face. Also, given the fact that we happen to travel a lot due to the large number of machines operating across the world and the need to liaise with different laboratories, universities and research centres, it is quite an achievement to bring together all these colleagues in one go.
I would say that SOFT has come a long way. In fact, the event per se and the fusion community have changed a lot over the years. For example, we used to work with relatively smaller machines until larger and more complex ones appeared such as JET in Europe, TFTR in the US and JT-60 in Japan. But with ITER on the horizon and the commitment of seven parties to consider fusion as an alternative, we are given the possibility to reach out through our work. What is also remarkable is how involved the younger generation of scientists is in offering its expertise and making this a success story. Fusion is also becoming more multi-disciplinary in its make up. Experts from different disciplines have started taking interest in plasma physics, particle physics and fission devices.
Which are SOFT’s strong points and which are its softer ones, so to say?
I would definitely say the poster session. Every participant takes pride in presenting his or her work on a poster, which is made of images and text. It’s the perfect moment to walk around and meet colleagues, ask questions, find out what they are working on and with whom. It is by far the most interactive session. Also, satellite meetings and round table discussions are very interesting because we try during a limited amount of time to tackle difficult issues. One of the points that we would need to address in future is the potential overlap with themes addressed in other international events. Maybe we would have to trade off wider discussion on a broad range of topics for more in depth discussions on a more limited number of themes.
One would expect that in such type of event we would have some technology stories coming out or perhaps a working paper that would really shake the fusion community. Is this the case at all?
Well, you do need to bear in mind that fusion technology clusters have evolved rather slowly. It is very seldom that you get such a story that would be considered a turning point. In fact, this happens mostly in the scientific area when results from an experiment are reported and they have an impact on fusion science overall. On the other hand, this time round we are actually talking about ITER. This is a giant step for all of us backing this project for years and dedicating our careers in seeing this through. So you could argue that the big story today is that ITER is finally a reality.
During this year’s SOFT, there have been presentations and round table discussions about ITER. What are the opportunities ahead for scientists, industry and policy makers?
ITER is a remarkable example of international collaboration bringing together so-called ‘in kind’ contribution and expertise. The fact that we aim to pull this experiment off will trigger off demand for more academic studies in this domain and generate more scientists and technology specialists. It will inevitably create a new niche for industry and SMEs to produce components and carry out specific services. Furthermore, policy makers will learn through this new model of R&D collaboration and they will also start considering fusion as a possibility to fight one of the biggest challenges that we face- climate change. I anticipate that ITER will also give rise to a new type of collaboration between industry and science. The ‘way’ to fusion energy we will also lead the way to new knowledge!