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Snowflake Science

January 12, 2012 - 2:08pm

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Snowflakes always have six sides, their form and shape depend on temperature and moisture -- and they may have also inspired a pathway to a new alternative source of energy. | Image courtesy of SnowCrystals.com.

Snowflakes always have six sides, their form and shape depend on temperature and moisture -- and they may have also inspired a pathway to a new alternative source of energy. | Image courtesy of SnowCrystals.com.

With winter just beginning, can snow be far behind?
 
We’ve all heard that no two snowflakes are alike, but what do we really know about them?

Snowflakes always have six sides, their form and shape depend on temperature and moisture -- and they may have also inspired a pathway to a new alternative source of energy!

Physicists working on the National Spherical Torus Experiment (NSTX) at the Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory are using a device called a "snowflake divertor” to solve one of the grand challenges of magnetic fusion research: reducing the effect that plasma has on the walls of the fusion machine,  a “tokamak.”

By using a snowflake divertor, a novel magnetic divertor named for its shape, scientists have reduced the interaction between hot plasma and the cold walls surrounding it. This helps address the challenge of how to reduce the effect of the extremely hot plasma on the tokamak’s walls.

When heat escapes from the confined plasma, it can erode the machine's walls and contaminate the plasma. The divertor improves the heat handling interface, and therefore the performance and lifetime of the plasma. Reliable control of the plasma will be necessary for fusion energy to be an alternative source of energy. If we can solve fusion's challenges, we could have an abundant, domestic and reliable source of clean energy.

You can find out more about snowflakes, tokamaks and fusion via Science Accelerator, a gateway to science, including R&D results, project descriptions, and accomplishments, and resources from the Office of Scientific and Technical Information.
 

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