Fusion, with a touch of science fiction

An imposing object stands at the heart of the Tom Hunt Energy Hall in the recently opened Perot Museum of Nature and Science in Dallas, Texas.

The four-metre-high structure is a mock-up of the ITER Tokamak—or, rather, a designer’s „interpretation” of the science of fusion and of the flagship device of fusion research.

Those familiar with the arrangement of components that make up an actual tokamak—central solenoid, vacuum vessel, toroidal and poloidal field coils, divertor, piping and feeders—will be a bit lost when gazing upon the towering mockup.

This is intentional. „Our goal was to create a sense of wonder in our visitors that might inspire them to learn more about the subject,” explains Paul Bernhard, whose team designed and installed the 700-square-metre Tom Hunt Energy Hall. „We see our tokamak as based in science, but coloured by a future vision influenced by science fiction—a somewhat cinematic element that you might imagine seeing in a new Star Trek film…”

The result is indeed spectacular. Although Bernhard’s tokamak looks a bit like a thermonuclear mushroom cloud—a „purely coincidental” similarity due to the geometry of the large rounded shape containing the brightly glowing "plasma" suspended over the narrower central core—it is a truly astonishing work of science art.

The moment of awe passed, visitors can experiment with a neon/argon plasma, manipulating it with a magnet; have a hands-on experience with actual toroidal field coil and central solenoid conductor sections provided by the US Domestic Agency; or watch video clips.

Impressed by the „amazing potential of fusion energy,” Bernhard and his team sought to „pass along [their] sense of inspiration.” In stimulating curiosity and enthusiasm for the sciences, a bit of artistic license can’t do any harm.