Lev Artsimovich, the Father of the Tokamak

Lev Artsimovich (1909 - 19730)

Lev Artsimovich (1909 – 19730)

On February 25, 1909, Soviet physicist Lev Artsimovich was born. Artsimovich worked on the field of nuclear fusion and plasma physics and is best known for providing the basis of the Tokamak, a device capable of confining ultra-high temperature plasma suitable for research into controlled nuclear fusion.

Lev Artsimovich studied in Minsk and starting from 1930 he worked at the Ioffe Institute in St. Petersburg. In 1944 he joined the “Laboratory number 2”, currently Kurchatov Institute to work on the Soviet atomic bomb project. From 1951 to his death in 1973, he was the head of the Soviet fusion power program.

Lev Artsimovich became best known as “the father of the Tokamak“, a special concept for a fusion reactor. During the beginning of World War II, research on nuclear fission took off. However, the research was classified as secret and only after the 1955 United Nations International Conference on the Peaceful Uses of Atomic Energy in Geneva programs were were declassified and international scientific collaboration could take place. In 1956 the first experiments on tokamak systems were conducted at Kurchatov Institute, Moscow. A tokamak is a device that uses a powerful magnetic field to confine plasma in the shape of a torus. Achieving a stable plasma equilibrium requires magnetic field lines that move around the torus in a helical shape. Such a helical field can be generated by adding a toroidal field (traveling around the torus in circles) and a poloidal field (traveling in circles orthogonal to the toroidal field). In a tokamak, the toroidal field is produced by electromagnets that surround the torus, and the poloidal field is the result of a toroidal electric current that flows inside the plasma. This current is induced inside the plasma with a second set of electromagnets. The group led by Lev Artsimovich constructed the the first tokamaks, the most successful being T-3 and its larger version T-4. The latter was tested in 1968 in Novosibirsk, conducting the first ever quasistationary thermonuclear fusion reaction.

In 1968 it was announced that Soviet scientists were able to achieve electron temperatures of over 1000 eV in a tokamak device. Even though British and American scientists were first sceptical, the results were confirmed with the help of laser scattering tests one year later.

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