Alcator C-Mod

Alcator C-Mod is a large science experiment at MIT in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Housed at the Plasma Science and Fusion Center (PSFC) it is the largest single experiment at MIT. Constructed in 1991, it is one of the 3 major US experiments developing fusion energy using magnetic fields. Together these 3 tokamaks constitute a major investment by the U.S. in developing the science and technology for future fusion reactors.

The Alcator C-Mod tokamak surrounded by diagnostics and support equipment in its experimental cell.

Alcator C-Mod is also more than an science experiment. It is a place where people come from all over the U.S. and the world to work toward a future with clean, abundant energy. Alcator C-Mod directly employs over 120 people working in all areas of research, education, engineering and fabrication and employs hundreds more in the community, nation and world. Alcator C-Mod is also a significant education facility for graduate students and undergraduates from not just MIT but many collaborators. Alcator C-mod produces not just the science for the future but also the scientists.

Below is a video about Alcator C-Mod and its role in the U.S. and global effort to develop fusion science and energy.

This podcast is courtesy of MIT Plasma Science and Fusion Center and MITTV


Below, see a plasma pulse inside Alcator C-Mod.

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Alcator C-Mod is a large training facility for fusion scientists in the US.

In addition to the research done on Alcator C-Mod, the lab serves as one of America’s largest sources of trained fusion researchers.  Alcator C-Mod is uniquely geared towards student education: the lab is home to approximately 30 graduate students, who are integral to the regular operation of the machine. Our graduate students have the opportunity to plan and execute full-scale experiments on Alcator C-Mod, allowing today’s students to become tomorrow’s leaders in energy research.

A PhD student takes a break from working on a high energy particle accelerator as part of the Alcator C-Mod collaboration.

A PhD student pauses from work on Alcator C-Mod (behind).

Alcator C-Mod provides opportunities for undergraduates to get involved with science and engineering research

As the largest experiment at MIT and a core component of MIT’s Physics and Nuclear Science and Engineering departments, Alcator is a major draw for students. Alcator commonly hosts physics and engineering students (over 30 in the last 3 years alone) for research through the Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program. This program serves as the first step into research work for aspiring physics and engineering students.

Alcator C-Mod hosts a large public education and outreach program.

C-Mod offers numerous opportunities for visitors to learn about fusion science and energy. The C-Mod tokamak is open for tours year round. Last year, more than 1300 people toured Alcator C-Mod. Additionally, C-Mod and PSFC at MIT support a wide range of public outreach activities. For example, the “Mr. Magnet” Program has brought fusion and plasma physics to thousands of students of all ages through on-site C-Mod tours and classroom visits. Mr. Magnet introduced fusion and plasma physics to more than 30,000 students a year! Educating visitors, students and teachers is a core component of C-Mod’s role in developing not only future science but also future scientists and leaders. The location of C-Mod makes it ideal for engaging a wide demographic, increasing the public’s awareness and understanding of important issues concerning science and energy.

Paul Thomas, aka "Mr. Magnet" introducing students to plasma physics. Photo: P. Rivenburg MIT

C-Mod is unique in the world.

There is no other high field, compact high performance divertor tokamak. In the coming decade, vitally important research, including many critical ITER physics, research and development tasks, can only be accomplished on Alcator C-Mod.

A camera view of the inside of Alcator C-Mod with an overlay of the magnetic surfaces. The plasma is so hot that it emits light beyond our range of vision. Only the very cool (<100,000 C) edge is visible in this image.

C-Mod impacts international research efforts.

C-Mod committed experimental resources to 22 of the 66 ITPA (International Tokamak Planning Activities) Joint Experiments last year. ITPA Joint Experiments are agreed upon by the world fusion community to be high priority experiments needed to support research for ITER and next generation fusion experiments.

C-Mod is an important part of the US fusion program.

There are three tokamaks in the US. They are called DIII-D, Alcator C-Mod and NSTX. C-Mod has very unique parameters, that complement NSTX and DIII-D. All three tokamaks are important. All three tokamaks work together to collaborate on exciting and important joint science experiments. Learn more about all three US fusion facilities at the DOE website.

All three US tokamaks contribute vital information to the design and operation of ITER.

C-Mod is a significant contributor to the local Boston, greater Massachusetts and the U.S. economy. In addition to its scientific researchers, C-Mod also employs engineers, technicians, machinists, electricians and other support staff within its MIT facility. Locally C-Mod works with many high tech vendors across the nation helping them develop cutting edge fabrication techniques and experience. Many of these vendors are small businesses with specialized high precision skills. Some used to be small businesses but have grown with C-Mod and other high technology industries like it.

Facts About the Economic Impact of C-Mod

- 120 directly employed personnel

- 300 indirectly employed personnel

- Previous members of the PSFC community (the lab that hosts Alcator C-Mod)  have founded over 36 spin-off companies employing over 1400 individuals in high tech areas. This is an example of technology transfer, an important part of all high tech research.  Read more about this in the spin-offs page.

- More than 70 national and international collaborators visiting C-Mod each year; staying in hotels, eating in local restaurants, etc.

Alcator C-Mod is funded by the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) Office of Science under the Fusion Energy Sciences (FES) program office.

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