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MIT News: Julien Barber: Protecting magnets and the environment

March 27, 2017 — 

As MIT News reports: 

“Where I grew up, it is below 0 degrees Celsius five months of the year.”

Julien Barber, a first-year graduate student in the Department of Mechanical Engineering at MIT, is describing Winnipeg, Manitoba, where average temperatures do not rise above freezing from November to March. It may not be surprising, then, that he is currently keeping things cool at the MIT Plasma Science and Fusion Center (PSFC), studying cryogenic methods of preventing superconducting magnets used in fusion research from overheating.

As an undergraduate at the University of Manitoba, Barber became accustomed to extreme cold. He spent time conducting climate change research in the high Arctic aboard the Canadian Icebreaker Amundsen, and first harnessed the cold, not for fusion devices, but for grocery stores.

“In Manitoba you have giant grocery stores, or data centers, that are burning carbon and spending money to cool things when the temperature outside is often colder than that of the component that requires cooling. My thesis partner, my advisor and I were attempting to find some way to transfer that cooling potential indoors.”

His work resulted in the design of a passive two-phase thermosyphon that could extend outside the roofs of buildings. Cool air passing the exposed thermosyphon would condense, liquefy, and fall to the bottom of the apparatus inside the building. The thermal energy from the source would then boil the liquid, sending it back up to the top as vapor, providing a passive means of cooling a given component…

Barber’s work so far has focused on analyzing the thermal properties and the heat transfer potential of supercritical hydrogen, and exploring how this cryogen might improve the performance of the magnetic coils in fusion devices. Experiments are being designed to test his modeling. Despite hydrogen’s promising heat transfer potential, the fluid comes with its own set of challenges. Hydrogen is a volatile substance, most commonly used as rocket fuel, and requires extreme care in handling and implementation.

Barber’s attraction to fusion, a potentially endless source of carbon-free energy, developed naturally from his early interest in climate change. He credits his father, a professor and climate researcher at the University of Manitoba, not only for generating his interest in clean energy and conservation, but for providing him with a global perspective, a consequence of living in foreign countries during multiple sabbaticals.

Read the full story here



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